Berea College's Rural School Improvement Project worked directly with more than 5,000 children and 63 teaching fellows in 39 different schools over 13 counties, and one independent school district, involving 10 county school supervisors. Project estimates claimed an indirect impact on approximately 45,000 children within the RSIP school districts.
The RSIP represented the thinking of national leaders of rural education in the 1950s who promoted improved administration of the schools combined with an active community engagement program based on “full respect for human personality” and “shared judgments.”
Following so many decades of poverty and isolation, it is no easy task to gauge the impact of a program like the Rural School Improvement Project on the children and communities of southeastern Kentucky. Like the progress-minded projects that came before it - and those that would come after - the seemingly intractable challenges attending the Appalachian region kept educational equity at bay. Indeed, it would take another thirty-two years before the landmark Kentucky Supreme Court decision in Rose v Council for Better Education would declare the state’s inequitable and inadequate school system to be unconstitutional. “Sixty-six” property poor, and mostly rural, school districts had sued the General Assembly citing the abiding fiscal inequities which had grown to as much as an 8:1 ratio when compared to one urban district. With the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act, in 1990, the General Assembly provided substantial funding equity to rural schools - before returning to its historical pattern of periodic attention amid chronic neglect.
Richard E. Day and Lindsey N. DeVries. (in press) A Persistent Quandary: The Rural School Improvement Project, 1953-1957. The Register of The Kentucky Historical Society.