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The Appalachian Rural Systemic Initiative (ARSI): An Evaluation Portfolio

Welcome to the ARSI Evaluation Portfolio

This evaluation portfolio presents a multi-faceted portrayal of the Appalachian Rural Systemic Initiative (ARSI), a ten-year National Science Foundation (NSF) supported effort to improve science, math and technology education in some of the poorest counties in our country. Designed specifically for the Appalachian region, ARSI focused on rural, isolated regions where at least 30 per cent of school-aged children live in poverty, a targeted area that included 66 counties within Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

The collection of reports presented on this website argue for the idea that ARSI served as an important decade-long experiment, whose “results” are of significance to others interested in educational improvement. Over the years ARSI developed an approach and a model that can be used to guide others in future investments to improve the educational opportunities offered young people in poor rural regions.

What makes ARSI unique and instructive is that the ARSI investment is quite small compared to the scale of the region and the scope of the problems it addressed. Nonetheless, the ways in which the investment was made—as a slow, steady, incremental and responsive effort to build human “capital” in the poorest regions of Appalachia—proved to be effective. The ARSI investment yielded important returns in improved student learning as well as expanded teacher and district capacities. In addition, because NSF provided a constant stream of funding over ten years, and because ARSI deliberately focused on developing indigenous knowledge and leadership capability, strong residual benefits remain in ARSI counties today.

In evaluating ARSI our charge at Inverness Research Associates was to document the challenges, accomplishments and larger lessons learned of the initiative. The reports and stories on this website are written from the perspectives of a group of researchers who were familiar and experienced with studying issues involving educational improvement efforts in rural settings, but who were “outsiders” to Appalachia. For a decade researchers gathered information through interviews, surveys and site visits to ARSI schools, districts and communities, aiming to capture and illuminate a complex endeavor in an equally complex environment. We have presented our evaluation findings and interpretations in modular form, aiming to achieve a mosaic picture of ARSI—its theory of action, its work and its accomplishments—which we feel best reflects the richness of the ARSI “experiment.” The modular design also allows the reader to select the topic and level of detail that most closely matches his of her interests.

We hope our web-based portrayal of ARSI will help others understand and learn from their good work.

To continue reading the ARSI Evaluation Portfolio, see the links in left column.

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