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Rural-School Groups Skirmish Over Research Agenda

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Kansas City, Mo.--Although there was near unanimous agreement here about the need to stimulate more research on rural-education issues, a sharp dispute occurred over which research agenda the U.S. Education Department should endorse--one submitted earlier this year by the National Rural Education Research Consortium, or another proposed by the Rural Education Association.

At issue is not so much the substance of the agendas--the proposals submitted by the nrerc and the rea are very similar, although the former gives higher priority to issues of finance and governance--but the manner in which they were prepared.

The nrerc agenda was based on 461 responses to a written survey, while the rea proposal was based on a telephone survey of 20 members of the rea executive and research committees.

The dispute surfaced when Doris Helge, co-director of the nrerc, denounced the rea proposal as "unempirically determined" and implied that it copied the agenda submitted by the nrerc

"Yes, we need to adopt an agenda, but not an agenda developed by 20 people," Ms. Helge said.

"They're duplicating what has already been done, and they're doing it poorly," Ms. Helge later said. "I don't think it does the field any justice. People will look at it and say rural educators can't even do research."

Ms. Helge made her remarks in response to a paper on teacher recruitment and preparation written by Jerry G. Horn, associate dean of the College of Education at Kansas State University and the president-elect of the rea In his paper, Mr. Horn called for the adoption of a research agenda and referred only to the rea proposal.

In a separate paper on local leadership, James D. Jess, a rural superintendent and past president of the rea, openly advocated adoption of the rea agenda.

rea leaders defended their proposed agenda and the manner in which it was prepared. "The rea approach was to work with a panel of experts," said Joseph Newlin, executive director of the rea "These are people who have spent their lifetimes in rural education. We've lived it, and we know what the problems are," Mr. Jess added.

Historically, little research has been conducted that focuses on the diversity and special needs of rural schools, with the result, rural educators say, that policies based on what works in urban settings have been unsuccessfully applied to rural schools.

Adoption of a national agenda for rural research is intended to put rural-education issues in the spotlight and attract researchers from other fields. Such an agenda is one of the objectives of the Education Department's Rural Education and Rural Family Policy, which the department adopted in 1983.

A subcommittee of the department's rural-education committee is expected to recommend an agenda to the full committee by November, according to Duane M. Nielsen, the committee vice-chairman. Mr. Nielson said the subcommittee was studying both proposals and would take note of methodological differences.

The rea is a 77-year-old, 700-member organization that represents the interests of rural educators nationwide. The nrerc is affiliated with the National Rural Development Institute and the school of education at Western Washington University.--jrs

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