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Rural Schools Report

State Board Vice-Chair Neal reports on NASBE’s Rural Study Group’s efforts

January 25-26, 2014

The National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) has created a Study Group on Rural Education and Colorado State Board of Education Vice Chair Marcia Neal (3rd Congressional District) has been appointed to serve on this important group.

Based in Arlington, VA, NASBE organizes two study groups a year to survey research on topics vital to policy-making boards of education of the various states. State board members from Kansas, Ohio, Maryland, Maine, Arkansas, Colorado, Michigan, Guam, New York, West Virginia, and Illinois make up the Rural Study Group. They have completed a first round of meetings with various experts, notably Deputy Assistant Secretary of Education Jonathon Brice, and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Susan Headden. They meet again in March, and in June, and will publish a report in 2015.

The first gathering of the group focused mainly on getting all committee members acquainted, reviewing the last study (Rural Schools – Which way are They Headed?) released in 2003, and the group started to identify common concerns among the states.  It was clear there were some differences in attitudes among the different study committee members and probably most clearly a difference in attitude between the states that are local control states and those that are not.

The group talked about the issue of forced consolidation of small schools and district that don’t have a “viable” population. The conversation was a bit surprising. For example, in Arkansas, they close school districts that don’t have 500 students.   Rural schools exist in all states, with the possible exception of Rhode Island. 

Colorado defines rural schools as those with less than 3,500 students. Small rural schools are those with fewer than 1,000 students. Both definitions take into consideration geographic information such as the distance from the district to an urban community.  Among the rest of the nation’s states, Colorado ranks 14th in percentage of rural schools and 10th in percentage of small rural schools.

While attracting high quality teachers is a continuing problem, rural teachers generally have a special connection with the community. For example, to show the bond between local rural schools and their communities, one state shared with the committee that a rural school district’s high school students took on a mission to educate residents about the importance of shopping locally. That project produced good results.

On the other hand, our research still shows that rural students are less likely to go to college or other institutions of higher education. 

Susan Headden, Pulitizer prize winning author of A Town Turned Classroom:  How a Focus on Farming Saved A Rural Kansas School spoke to the committee about the Walton 21st Century Rural Life Center in Walton, Kansas.   She spoke of both the success and the problems.  She presented many interesting ideas.

The committee will meet again in March.  Some identified topics for that meeting include:

  • Distance Learning
  • Flipped Classrooms
  • Differing funding rates (help for attracting quality teachers)


State Board vice chair Marcia Neal eagerly welcomes any of your thoughts and concerns about rural issues that would be good for the committee to consider and review.

Marcia Neal
3rd Congressional District
Colorado State Board of Education

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