Mara Tieken received her Doctorate of Education from the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University in 2011. Her research focuses on racial and educational equity in rural schools and communities. Her book Why Rural Schools Matter was published by the University of North Carolina Press in the fall of 2014. An ethnographic study of two rural Arkansas communities, it examines the roles that rural schools play in rural towns–specifically, how they shape a particular community and how they shape the racial landscapes of these towns. She is now working on a multi-year, ethnographic project that examines the factors shaping the college experiences—aspirations, transitions, and persistence—of rural, first-generation students; this project is funded by the Spencer Foundation. Before returning to graduate school, she taught third grade and adult basic education in rural Tennessee.
Tieken also studies community organizing for education reform. She was involved in a study of education organizing groups across the country, the results of which are published in A Match on Dry Grass: Community Organizing as a Catalyst for School Reform (Oxford University Press, 2011); she co-authored the case study of Southern Echo, a rural organizing group, included in the volume. In addition, she co-authored Inside Urban Charter Schools: Promising Practices and Strategies in Five High-Performing Schools (Harvard Education Press, 2009), a study of five high-performing urban charter schools, and has an essay about teaching antiracist history in all-white classrooms included in Everyday Antiracism: Getting Real about Race in Schools (The New Press, 2008).
Her work has also been published in Harvard Educational Review, American Educational Research Journal, Peabody Journal of Education, and Sociological Focus. Tieken was the 2016 recipient of the Ernest A. Lynton Award for the Scholarship of Engagement for Early Career Faculty.