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Rural Educators Seek Changes In Federal Research Agenda

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Representatives of rural schools have told the federal government that the basic research data are lacking on which to make sound school-reform decisions affecting the large rural sector in education.

In a proposed agenda for research submitted this month to the U.S. Education Department, the Rural Education Association urges that the government support more study of rural schools' effectiveness, staff development and support, and curriculum and instruction, as well as the demography and taxonomy of rural education.

"The agenda encourages more study in nine areas that can serve as background for policy decisions aimed at improving rural education," according to Joseph T. Newlin, executive director of the rea

75 Percent of Districts

Rural and small schools, Mr. Newlin said, educate about one-third of the nation's school-age children and represent about 75 percent of all public-school districts. For school reform to have widespread benefits, he said, the needs and characteristics of rural education and small schools must be better understood by policymakers.

The new report, prepared by two education professors, Bruce O. Barker of Texas Tech University and E. Robert Stephens of the University of Maryland at College Park, says "the lack of information represents a major obstacle to the furtherance of rural interests at a time when the potential for fundamental change in rural education policy is perhaps the greatest in its history."

The document was submitted to Robert Worthington, assistant secretary for adult and vocational education and the chairman of the Education Department's interagency committee on rural education.

Previous Agreement

In a policy statement released at an annual rea conference in October 1983, the federal agency agreed to provide equitable information, services, assistance, and funding for rural schools, according to Mr. Newlin. The policy statement also promised that the federal government would expand research activities and information-gathering on the subject of rural education.

Another rural-education research group, the National Rural Development Institute of Western Washington University, outlined a research agenda that was passed along to the department earlier this spring. (See Education Week, May 8, 1985.) That report, which was based on a survey of 1,500 rural educators and researchers, placed greater emphasis on finance issues affecting rural schools and on the use of advanced technologies in administration or classrooms than did the rea study, which was based on a survey of 20 leading experts on rural-education research.

But Mr. Newlin of the rea said the differences between the two agendas are minor. "We're not that far off," he said. "It's just a matter of emphasis."

Copies of the rea report can be obtained at no cost from Joseph T. Newlin, Executive Director, Rural Education Association, 300 Education Building, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo. 80523.

--sr

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