Cover: Implementation and Outcomes of the Appalachian Renaissance Initiative in Eastern Kentucky Schools

Implementation and Outcomes of the Appalachian Renaissance Initiative in Eastern Kentucky Schools

Published Jan 3, 2019

by Andrea Phillips, Julia H. Kaufman, John F. Pane, Emma Lee, Andy Bogart

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Research Questions

  1. What activities and opportunities constituted the ARI, and how were they communicated across districts?
  2. To what extent did districts and schools actively participate in the ARI, and why did participation vary?
  3. What changes in school and student outcomes can be associated with the ARI?
  4. What elements of the ARI did stakeholders recommend sustaining?

This report presents findings from RAND researchers' evaluation of the Appalachian Renaissance Initiative (ARI) in 17 districts totaling 99 kindergarten–12th grade schools within the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC). The ARI provided principals, teachers, and students in rural Eastern Kentucky with an array of opportunities and activities intended to support and improve teaching and learning through innovative, personalized learning approaches. The initiative took place from the 2014–2015 through 2017–2018 academic years. KVEC received federal funding through the Race to the Top–District (RTT-D) federal grant program; in response to RTT-D priorities, ARI activities focused on a range of areas, from personalized learning and next generation classrooms to college and career readiness and educator effectiveness. Principals, teachers, and students were able to choose the activities in which they participated. As intended by the grant program, activities evolved over time to meet the needs of schools, teachers, and students. This evaluation examines various aspects of ARI implementation through collection and analysis of documents, surveys, and interviews with those charged with leading the ARI, as well as school principals and teachers. The authors also conducted an investigation of student achievement outcomes in schools participating in the ARI relative to other schools in Kentucky. Findings from the study address implementation of the initiative and effects on student outcomes.

Key Findings

  • The ARI comprised 26 different activities: 17 activities focused on building capacity for principals and teachers, and nine specifically targeted student learning.
  • The ARI created numerous structures to communicate about activities to districts, schools, and teachers.
  • Principal and teacher knowledge about ARI activities varied considerably from district to district in the fourth year of the ARI.
  • For the activities where KVEC set participation goals for educators and students, those participation goals were met.
  • As expected, at least some principals and teachers from each district participated in the ARI each year.
  • KVEC developed a theory of action for disseminating the ARI that was broadly aimed at fostering widespread engagement and adoption among participants and nonparticipants. It does not appear that the ARI met its goal of spreading to reach all teachers and students in the participating districts.
  • Staffing challenges and lack of buy-in for ARI activities may have been key reasons for the low spread of ARI-induced change in some cases.
  • Across a broad set of schoolwide measures of achievement, our analysis did not detect strong signals that ARI was improving student outcomes.
  • The great majority of participating principals and teachers recommended sustaining ARI activities that they knew about, although low percentages recommended that their district or school be charged with sustaining a specific activity of the ARI.


  • When leveraging the strengths of regional education agencies to implement large-scale initiatives, seek mechanisms to help ensure the intended changes will occur at the local level.
  • Consider communicating opportunities directly and personally to teachers when possible to bolster knowledge of and participation in activities.
  • Consider intensive coaching or classroom support to improve educator effectiveness.
  • Provide a set of activities with a focus on particular aspects of students' learning, possibly in specific subject areas, to help principals and teachers link activities to improvements in teaching and learning, as well as to school goals.
  • Consider how to align activities more closely with school goals and needs for all or the majority of students, as this may increase principal and teacher buy-in.
  • Consider infrastructure and resource constraints other than funding that may hinder participation.

Research conducted by

This study was sponsored by the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC) and conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

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