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Most-Read Rural Education Posts In 2011

I started writing this blog near the end of April, so we're a bit shy of having a full year to review. But the past eight months have been chock-full of breaking news, interesting research and complex issues.

Our fantastic Web folks tracked down the posts you read most, and here are your Top 10:

10. Rural School a Step Closer To Obama Speaking At Graduation
This was a relatively short entry on small, rural Bridgeport High School, in Bridgeport, Wash., being one of three finalists in the the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge. The reason for all the interest? President Obama would speak at the winning school's graduation. However, the White House ended up choosing Booker T. Washington High School, in Memphis, Tenn., as the winner.

9. Rural School Relies On Agriculture, Attracts National Attention

When I first wrote about the Walton Rural Life Center in rural Walton, Kan., I said it was one of the most innovative rural schools I'd seen. That still holds true. The once-struggling school reinvented itself as a hands-on, agriculture-focused charter school, and that's led to increased enrollment and improved test scores. Students learn reading and math by growing vegetables in a greenhouse and caring for farm animals such as chickens and goats. How cool?!

8. Rural Schools Hurt By Title I Funding Formula

One of the biggest, if not the biggest, issue tackled by rural education advocates in 2011 was changing the way federal Title I funds are distributed. They say the current formula hurts small, poor districts by giving more money to districts with high concentrations of student poverty. This post about their main advocacy effort, the Formula Fairness campaign, offered a detailed analysis showing nearly one out of four school districts with the highest poverty rate nationally would be better off if the formula for distributing that money made no effort to target high-poverty districts. The campaign has rallied a number of co-sponsors to legislation that would address the issue, called the All Children are Equal Act. The House Education and the Workforce Committee likely will consider the proposal after Congress reconvenes in January, according to the Formula Fairness campaign.

7. How Rural Students Use and Perceive Their Libraries
The post ranking at No. 7 was about a research article that focused more on library usage as a general issue, rather than how that was different for rural schools. In fact, the rural angle of the study was the participants, and the findings weren't relegated to rural schools. Researchers wanted to know whether and how students were using libraries, as well as their perceptions of the library's strengths and weaknesses. I assume this post's primary readers were media specialists.

6. Making Data-Driven Decisions in Rural Schools
Modern federal and state accountability systems require educators to look at student test scores now more than ever, and this post summarized a webinar on using data to support instructional decisions. The presentation was one in a series relative to the needs of rural educators, so it had a strong rural angle. It included five recommendations for districts, saying the most difficult one for rural schools to implement would be developing district-wide data systems.

5. Rural Schools, Brain Drain and Community Survival
The No. 5 and No. 4 entries were separated by less than 10 page views. This post is related to an issue that appears twice in our Top 5—rural students' college enrollment rates, which are lower than any other geographic area (and the national average). The post described the findings of research on the role schools play in the "brain drain" phenomenon, in which the most talented rural residents leave in search of better opportunities elsewhere. Interestingly, researchers found schools were not only agents of brain drain, but they also reinforced social boundaries.

4. Study: Poor, Rural Families Need Support for Special Needs Students
I try to feature as much rural education-related research as I can, and this study was one that gave some advice to rural educators working with special needs or low-income students. This study originally was published in 2003 but appeared in a spring 2011 issue of the Rural Special Education Quarterly, which is published by the American Council on Rural Special Education. The top three tips? Provide special programs for female students with disabilities, consider the hardships of low-income families when creating family involvement programs, and advocate for anti-poverty programs.

3. Defining Disrespect From Rural Teachers' Perspective
Coming in third was a post on the way rural teachers define disrespect and the implications that has for training them to manage student behavior. It featured a study published in Rural Special Education Quarterly on a rural Ohio district with five schools. They talked about the need to further study the behaviors teachers most frequently cited as disrespectful so better training could be provided to manage those.

2. Rural Superintendents Share Financial Success Secrets
It doesn't surprise me that this post landed at No. 2. Is there any rural school leader who doesn't want to know how to improve his/her district's finances? Rural schools nationally struggle with finances for a myriad of reasons: they lack economies of scale, and funding formulas often are based on enrollment, which typically is lower in rural areas. This post detailed a study on a group of successful, rural Texas superintendent who shared their strategies to stretch limited resources.

1. How Two Rural Schools Prepare Kids for College, Part 1

This post had more than double the number of page views as the second most-read post, and I'm certain that's because it was featured in a newsletter published by ASCD, formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, which is an educational leadership organization. The post highlighted an online discussion hosted by the American Youth Policy Forum on the success strategies of two rural schools. I concentrated on Patton Springs School in Afton, Texas, which has a 100 percent graduation rate and enables students to finish with up to 30 college credits. The broader issue of lower college enrollment rates for students from rural areas was one of the most significant we've covered this past year, and we'll look for more ways to do so in 2012.

Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year!

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