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Researcher: Rural Schools Lose Race To Top

A senior manager for an educational research firm says Race to the Top results reinforce the contention that small, rural schools are left behind by competitive grant funding.

"RTT requirements seem best suited to densely populated and urban states. Awards have born this out, with funding going to states on the East Coast rather than to Midwestern or Western states with low population densities and high proportions of rural schools," writes Howley Caitlin in the Daily Yonder.

Howley is senior manager, education and research, ICF International, in Charleston, W.Va. Rural schools lost the Race to the Top, she writes in an analysis of where those funds will and will not go.

Her research fleshes out the numbers behind an obvious but important point: While states with large rural populations such as North Carolina and Georgia won Race to the Top money, missing in action are almost all the states with highest numbers of small, rural schools—and many in the high rural-poverty belts the Rural School and Community Trust has identified in the Rural 900, a list of the highest-poverty rural school districts in the nation.

The Education Department points out that rural schools and students in winner states will inevitably gain. And, Hawaii's plan for the funds is said to target most remote schools in that unitary district.

Yet Howley writes that the federal government is rewarding schools for innovations such as drastic staffing changes, charter schools, and mandatory student transfers that don't work very well in rural areas. And, she said, the problem is likely to continue.

"Some of these options are untenable in rural remote districts. For example, transferring students to other schools may require long bus rides or arrangements with other districts to allow student attendance. Moreover, given the significance of local schools to the health of rural communities, the school closure model may herald the rapid decline of some rural towns, a kind of federal mandated community suicide. The turnaround option may also pose challenges for some rural districts. Given the well-documented difficulty of attracting and retaining teachers and principals in rural schools, firing entire staffs may leave schools unable to serve children."
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