Tag Archives: What is the definition of a rural and/or small school?

Rural schools

25 Apr

A significant number of children attend rural schools. According to the Rural Assistance Center, the definition of a rural school is:

Question: What is the definition of a rural and/or small school?

Answer: According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the definition of rural schools was revised in 2006 after working with the Census Bureau to create a new locale classification system to capitalize on improved geocoding technology and the 2000 Office of Management and Budget definitions of metro areas that rely less on population size and county boundaries than proximity of an address to an urbanized area. Small schools do not necessarily mean rural, and rural does not mean small. A small school could be an urban school with a decreasing population. Rural schools can be large due to the center school concept where students are bused in to one school to save on costs. Some schools are considered small when compared to the mega-schools of several thousand that are common in some districts. A small school could be one designed to accommodate a specific population of students and their unique needs or a private school. Rural and/or small schools have similar needs and concerns.

According to The Condition of Education in Rural Schools (U.S. Department of Education, 1994), ‘few issues bedevil analysts and planners concerned with rural education more than the question of what actually constitutes “rural”.’ In the Federal Register published December 27, 2000, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced the Standards for Defining Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas. These new standards replace and supersede the 1990 standards for defining Metropolitan Areas. OMB announced definitions of areas based on the new standards and Census 2000 data in June 2003. The lack of a clear, accepted definition of “rural” has impeded research in the field of rural education. When defining the term rural, population and remoteness are important considerations as these factors influence school organization, availability of resources, and economic and social conditions.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the definition of “small rural schools” are those schools eligible to participate in the Small Rural School Achievement (SRSA) program. SRSA includes districts with average daily attendance of fewer than 600 students, or districts in which all schools are located in counties with a population density of fewer than 10 persons per square mile, AND all schools served by the districts are located in a rural area with a school locale code of 7 or 8.


Rural schools face unique challenges.

Jeremy Ayers reports in the Center for American Progress report, Make Rural Schools A Priority:

One in five students attends a rural school, and more than half of all school districts and one-third of all public schools are in rural areas. Rural student enrollment grew 15 percent between 2002 and 2005, an increase of 1.3 million students. That compares to only 1 percent growth in nationwide enrollment during the same time period.

Definitions of “rural” vary. The U.S. Census Bureau defines rural areas by their geographic distance from urban centers, and as communities that contain fewer than 2,500 people. The Department of Education defines rural schools as those located in districts with fewer than 600 students. Some rural education advocates identify rural schools as those residing in communities with fewer than 2,500 residents, following the Census classification, but also argue for including schools in towns up to 25,000 people. The exact definition matters less than the realization that a large number of rural schools exist and face unique challenges and opportunities. Then there are “frontier” schools that may have only dozens of students, located in very remote or isolated parts of the country such as Alaska, Appalachia, the prairies of the Plains states, and the Mountain West.

Many rural areas of the country contain concentrated poverty, just as urban areas do. Rural schools face particular difficulty in recruiting and retaining teachers and principals. Rural schools continue to lag behind others in Internet access, and rural high schools are not able to provide advanced coursework such as AP and IB classes in the way more urban and suburban areas do. Research on rural education has, at times, been underfunded or not encouraged. And, overall, rural areas have experienced shrinking tax bases, shifting local economies, and brain drain among young people who move to more urban areas after high school graduation.

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Jeremy Ayers is the Senior Education Policy Analyst at American Progress.


One of the significant challenges faced by rural schools is complying with “No Child Left Behind.”

Education Week has an interesting issue brief, Rural Education:

More schools were in rural locations than in either cities or suburbs in 2009-2010, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Based on data from the “Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey,” slightly more than 33 percent of regular elementary and secondary public schools nationwide were in locations classified as rural by NCES (2009b). In all, over 24 percent of public school students attended rural schools that year. In about half of the states, students in rural areas make up a majority of the public elementary and secondary school population.

Those high numbers, combined with the potential advantages of small schools and the challenges that rural schools face in meeting certain mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, have prompted experts to realize that rural education merits increased attention and policy consideration.

It is important to keep in mind that rural schools differ greatly from one another. But as a group, students in these schools have generally scored as well as or better than non-rural students on standardized tests (Loveless, 2003; Williams, 2003; Fan & Chen, 1999). Average test scores on the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed that 4th and 8th grade students in rural schools perform at similar levels in reading, science, and mathematics to their suburban peers and better than their urban peers (National Center for Education Statistics, 2007).

However, the nationwide picture obscures achievement levels that, in fact, vary greatly from state to state. Rural students perform significantly better than non-rural students in some states, but significantly poorer in others. Such differences seem to be linked to variances in a wide range of school factors, such as instructional resources and advanced course offerings (Lee & McIntire, 2000). The spread of high-speed Internet access and development of online learning programs in several states and districts has helped expand opportunities and access to resources for rural students in recent years.

Slightly more than 33 percent of regular elementary and secondary public schools nationwide are in locations classified as rural by the National Center for Education Statistics.

The makeup of student populations in rural schools differs considerably across the country as well. As a whole, rural students are predominantly white (75 percent); approximately 10 percent are black, and about 11 percent are Hispanic, according to 2007-08 data from NCES (2010).

While the typical rural school has a smaller proportion of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches compared to the typical urban school (Loveless, 2003), some rural areas struggle with extreme poverty. According to 2009 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, 24.2 percent of rural children across the nation live below the federal poverty level, up from 19 percent in 2000 (Mattingly & Stransky, 2010).

Studies in several states have shown that small schools and districts can overcome the adverse effects of poverty on student achievement and narrow the achievement gap between poor students and their more affluent peers (Johnson, 2004; Johnson, Howley, & Howley, 2002; Bickel & Howley, 2000). Such findings are particularly relevant in rural education, where the average school serves approximately 338 students (National Center for Education Statistics, 2009c).

Despite research that points to advantages of small schools, however, many rural schools and districts have been forced to consolidate with other schools and districts to cut costs. Between 1930 and 2000, consolidation reduced the number of U.S. school districts by 91 percent and the number of schools by 67 percent, while the number of students increased by 83 percent in that time (Howley & Howley, 2001)…

Rural schools have long struggled with attracting and retaining teachers. A nationwide survey of rural school superintendents conducted by the American Association of School Administrators and the Appalachia Educational Laboratory found the superintendents identified low salaries and social and geographic isolation as the main factors responsible for their difficulties in recruiting and retaining teachers (Schwartzbeck et al., 2003).

According to the NCES report “Status of Education in Rural America, 2007,” the average base salary for teachers in rural areas was $44,000, well below the national average of $49,600, and trailing the average salaries for teachers in towns, $45,200; suburbs, $54,200; and cities at $51,200 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2009a). Small rural schools also heavily rely on teachers to teach more than one subject area (Schwartzbeck et al., 2003).

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires states to raise all student performance up to the “proficient” level on state tests by the 2013-14 school year. Individual schools must meet state “adequate yearly progress,” or AYP, targets toward this goal for their overall student populations and certain subgroups such as low-income students, black students, English-language learners, etc.

The law poses particular problems for small rural schools that have tiny numbers of students who take state tests each year. In such schools, a relatively small amount of test data determines whether the school meets AYP targets. Some experts feel that because of this, small schools and districts face the potential of being misidentified as failing or in need of improvement. They suggest that states raise the minimum number of tests-takers for AYP purposes. But the same experts also caution that such a solution could mean that small schools that need help would not be included in the accountability system, and could slip through the cracks (Jimerson, 2004a; Jimerson, 2004b).


The Council of State Governments studies rural schools.

The Council of State Governments‘ report, Rural Schools: Federal Expenditures & State Perspectives has the following key findings:

Key Findings

1. Rural schools and districts are at a significant disadvantage when seeking Title I funding.

2. Rural Education Achievement Program funds help only a small portion of rural schools and districts.

3. Rural schools due to infrastructure or staffing shortages find it difficult to compete for competitive grants.

4. Rural schools do not receive preferential federal funding, even though it costs more to educate rural students.

5. Low state funding, leads to low federal funding. This means that if Utah spends $5,521 per pupil while Rhode Island spends $13,410 per pupil, Rhode Island will receive the larger allocation even after controlling for the cost of living in that states.8

6. Distance learning and integrating technology into the classroom is a costly necessity. In the face of school consolidation and increased competitiveness in the college application process, rural schools and districts must provide more schooling options and more advanced courses, if they want their students to succeed.

7. The recruitment and retention of highly qualified teachers is an issue for rural schools. Rural schools tend to employ teachers who teach more than one core subject, are miles from the nearest university or college and who may be paraprofessionals, all of which makes hiring and retaining qualified teachers a challenge.

8. Pockets of rural students exist everywhere in the United States and their composition varies ethnically, racially, socioeconomically, and in English proficiency. There is no one way to address all rural communities.


Because a significant number of children attend rural schools, rural schools must receive the resources to educate their children.

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©