Research Spotlight

Making an Impact on Rural Education

The School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has become a national leader in improving education in the poorest rural schools, hosting the National Research Center on Rural Education Support funded by the Institute of Education Sciences. Since 2002, the School of Education has garnered more than $51 million from public and private sources to study rural education and to develop and evaluate effective research-based intervention programs in nearly 1,000 rural school districts in 46 states.

To learn more about any of the initiatives below, contact Assistant Dean Wendy Gratz Borman at or the principal investigator listed on the project summary.

Research and Intervention


The following interventions were all validated by randomized clinical trials:

Targeted Reading Intervention

Delivers effective instructional strategies to teachers via webcam to help struggling readers in early elementary school. Results include:

  • Children made large gains in all areas of reading.
  • Lowest skilled children benefit most.
Rural Early Adolescent Learning Program

Delivers effective instructional and organizational strategies for teachers to promote students’ adjustment in early adolescence.

  • Teachers reported increased effectiveness in teaching children.
  • The social and behavioral context for young adolescents’ learning improved.
  • Students ─ especially minorities ─ reported increased academic achievement.
Distance Education: Enhanced Rural Online Learning

Provides effective training for school-based paraprofessionals to support high school students’ engagement in online Advanced Placement English.

  • The course completion rates in AP English increased significantly.
  • Instructors reported greater gains in student performance.

Teaches middle-school teachers in four rural N.C. counties to make connections between the curriculum and the world of work.

  • Students performed better on mathematics and reading end-of-grade tests.
  • Fewer unexcused absences and suspensions were recorded.
  • Students reported that they value their education.
  • Students of color and from lower-income families benefited most.


Other research and interventions:

Madres para Niños

Helps Latina mothers better navigate their children’s school entry process and support their children’s learning. Serving 150 mothers and their children in three rural N.C. counties. Parents reported learning:

  • About schools’ expectations of students and parents.
  • How to encourage their children to read by asking questions and how to use household items to teach their children.
  • About the importance of spending engaged learning time with their children.
Family Life Project

A representative sample of every baby born in a one-year period in six poor rural counties in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Currently tracking them from birth through second grade to find out what leads to school success. This 10-year, $30 million project is the largest multidisciplinary study of rural children ever undertaken. Findings include:

  • Preschool/childcare quality is extremely low in rural areas.
  • African-American families are much poorer than other rural families.
  • Chaotic living conditions detract from children’s school readiness skills.
High School Aspirations and Resources

A national survey of 8,600 adolescents, 700 teachers and 1,200 parents in 73 randomly selected rural high schools across the country. Results include:

  • Most adolescents plan to continue their education beyond high school.
  • Most adolescents plan careers that require at least a college degree.
  • Adolescents lack opportunities to explore different career options, and to take advanced high school courses to prepare for postsecondary education.

Teacher Preparation and Support

The School of Education prepares and supports educational leaders who work in a range of settings: classrooms, schools, district offices, research institutions, and state and federal agencies. We are committed to making resources and advanced study accessible to educators in rural areas.

Instructional Consultation Teams

A problem-solving team works with teachers at a school to support the instructional success of at-risk children. Teachers learn to use a rigorous process to collect data and implement interventions. As a result, students’ academic achievement and behaviors improve, and a self-sustaining “culture of competence” develops. Serving 14 schools in five rural N.C. counties.


A Web-based network that delivers innovative K–12 practices and materials to educators and students in all 100 counties of North Carolina and beyond. Resources include lesson plans and teaching strategies, classroom texts and multi-media, and online professional development courses. About 30,000 people visit LEARN NC’s Web site daily.

Center for Mathematics and Science Education

Provides professional development to K-12 mathematics and science teachers across the state, including rural counties.

Leadership Center for Math and Science Teachers

Provides professional development to assist mathematics and science teachers in low-resource communities to earn National Board Certification.

Online Post-Baccalaureate Programs

Flexible, online programs for career-changers who want to become teachers and for teachers who want to earn add-on licensure in reading. The online format makes these programs accessible from any location. The programs are:

Master of School Administration Flex

Offers a distance-delivered Master of School Administration program. Courses are conducted off-campus and incorporate online activities.

Master of Education for Experienced Teachers

Combines online with face-to-face instruction to make graduate education in a flexible format accessible to practicing teachers.