News Release

September 16, 2015
For Immediate Release

Liza Cordeiro,, (202) 650-4456
Tim Sullivan,, (703) 855-3211

Culture Shapes Education Success for Students in Middle Appalachia

ARLINGTON, VA – Today CNA Education releases a report that finds that academic achievement and attitudes toward education in "Middle Appalachia" are shaped by regional culture, including a deep attachment to place, strong kinship ties, ambivalence toward formal education, chronic poverty, and geographic isolation. Overall, the findings suggest that Middle Appalachia is closing the education and economic gaps with other parts of the country, but much work and research remain necessary to provide equitable opportunities to all students.

CNA Education is a division of CNA, a nonprofit research and analysis organization located in Arlington, Virginia.

The report, Appalachia Rising, spotlights five education topics of national priority: college and career readiness, educator effectiveness, access to high-quality curriculum and instruction, systemic capacity, and health and wellness.

CNA researchers reviewed more than 275 studies written over the past 20 years (1995–2015) on education in the area dubbed "Middle Appalachia"—mostly contiguous portions of Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. No such study had been done since the early 1980s.

"Schools in Middle Appalachia face region-specific challenges in motivating high achievement for all students," said Stacey Jordan, vice president and director of education at CNA. "Many exciting educational initiatives are underway in the region and P-12 indicators are improving, but higher education attainment continues to lag behind the rest of the nation. Our hope is that this review will provide policymakers, practitioners, and researchers with critical information to understand and begin to address education challenges unique to Middle Appalachia through data-informed initiatives."

Key findings include:

  • High school graduation rates in Middle Appalachia have been increasing for decades and now exceed national averages.
  • Appalachian culture (e.g., attitudes toward education, attachment to family and place, and commitment to the region) influences education improvement initiatives.
  • The teaching force is stable, but effectiveness is a concern, especially in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) areas and in instructional leadership.
  • Teaching externally generated, rigorous academic standards that may not resonate with all local residents is a challenge.
  • Rising rates of substance abuse and childhood obesity are a concern because of the relationship among general fitness, obesity, and academic performance.

Based on the research, the report suggests next steps:

  • College and career readiness efforts should be closely aligned with current and future career opportunities as well as regional community development needs.
  • Educator preservice and inservice programs should focus on teacher content knowledge, particularly in mathematics and science, and on recruiting local teacher candidates in hard-to-staff content and program areas such as math, science, and special education.
  • Curriculum and instruction might be made more challenging, relevant, and engaging through the integration of place-based approaches to teaching rigorous academic standards.
  • Systemic capacity can be enhanced by building on partnerships and lessons learned from prior initiatives and by involving regional universities, parents, and community leaders to ensure relevance and buy-in.
  • Educators will need guidance on effective school-based prevention programs for addressing health and wellness issues.

The report also highlighted areas for further research, including college enrollment and completion; Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs; improving teacher and leader effectiveness; and implementation, impact, and sustainability of curriculum and instruction improvement initiatives.

A snapshot of report highlights can be found here, or to review the full report, click here.

CNA is a nonprofit research and analysis organization dedicated to the safety and security of the nation. It operates the Center for Naval Analyses — the only Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) serving the Department of the Navy — as well as the Institute for Public Research. CNA is dedicated to developing actionable solutions to complex problems of national importance. With nearly 700 scientists, analysts and professional staff, CNA takes a real-world approach to gathering data. Its one-of-a-kind field program places analysts on carriers and military bases, in squad rooms and crisis centers, working side-by-side with operators and decision-makers around the world. CNA supports naval operations, fleet readiness and great power competition. Its non-defense research portfolio includes criminal justice, homeland security and data management.

Note to writers and editors: CNA is not an acronym and is correctly referenced as "CNA, a research organization in Arlington, VA."


Elizabeth Cutler
Communications Program Manager

Liza Cordeiro
Senior Advisor Marketing