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Calling All Rock Star Rural School Superintendents

Can you name three rock star rural school superintendents? How about just one?

That's the way Mark Schneider, vice president of the American Institutes of Research and former Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, illustrated his point about the lack of attention given to rural schools during a recent conversation we had.

A comment he made during an American Enterprise Institute gathering in late May caught the attention of The Rural School and Community Trust, which publicized it on the group's Web site. Schneider said:

"If you are studying rural communities or rural problems you are not getting any cachet or the attention [you would get] studying other places."

Experts certainly have noted the lack of research in the field of rural education, but we followed up with Schneider to see what prompted him to say that. He made a few points to back up his position.

Someone who studies big city districts such as Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and New York is far more likely to receive attention—Schneider joked they probably would end up in the pages of EdWeek—than someone who chooses to study rural districts.

During his tenure as chairman of NCES, the organization created a report on the Status of Rural Education, which was published in 2007. The center now has a Web page devoted to rural education, but those were new efforts compared with a long tradition of reports on urban education.

Based on NCES definitions for geographic areas, Schneider said students in rural areas consistently outperform their urban peers but almost consistently lag their suburban ones. And students in towns are doing worse than those from rural areas. He wondered how many readers were aware of those statistics.

"Everyone talks about urban school districts, but there are a lot of students in rural schools," he said.

That brings us to the rock star rural superintendent challenge. He asked me to name at least three current or former urban superintendents who were well-known for their impact, and I easily could do that. (I stopped after listing five ... Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan, Joel Klein, Paul Vallas, and Rod Paige). He then asked me to do the same for rural school superintendents, and I was stumped.

The National Rural Education Association names a Rural Teacher of the Year, but I didn't see any Superintendent of the Year honor on its Web site.

If you know of any rock star rural school superintendents, let me know. Maybe we can feature a few here on the Rural Education blog. It's the least we can do to give them some cachet.

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