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Published in Print: October 6, 2004, as Rural Schools in Need of Guidance, GAO Says

Rural Schools in Need of Guidance, GAO Says

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The Department of Education should do more to assist small, rural school districts as they struggle to meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, a federal report released last week says.

The Government Accountability Office found that although the Education Department has taken some steps to address issues faced by rural schools, much more needs to be done on issues such as helping them with teacher training.

But in a response included in the report, Deputy Secretary of Education Eugene W. Hickok said the department has already made many efforts to aid rural schools.

"The authors of the report may not understand all the actions we have already taken in this area," Mr. Hickok wrote on Sept. 15.

About 25 percent of school districts nationwide are considered rural, and they face challenges such as small staffs, limited access to libraries and technology, and difficulties attracting teachers, the report says. The GAO defined "small, rural districts" as 55 miles or farther from a metropolitan area and with enrollments of 300 or fewer students.

The report points out that while the Education Department last month awarded a $10 million grant to the National Center for Research and Development in Rural Education, the grant’s research agenda does not include the study of problems facing small, rural districts.

Questions Unanswered

In addition, the GAO found that officials in rural school districts said they needed more support from the Education Department. State officials with responsibility for rural schools said their questions to the Education Department at times went unanswered.

Bob Mooneyham, the executive director of the National Rural Education Association, based at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, said he had not read the report but that the Education Department typically has not kept rural districts in mind when instituting education policy.

"It’s just amazing to me that they are so insensitive to local educational needs," he said.

But in his letter, Mr. Hickok pointed out several steps the department has taken to assist rural districts, including delaying requirements that teachers be "highly qualified" under the No Child Left Behind Act for certain rural schools and districts.

Vol. 24, Issue 06, Page 24

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