Between the 2002-03 and 2004-05 school years, the number of students enrolled in rural public schools in Nevada grew by more than 90 percent. During that same time, rural public school enrollment increased by 88 percent in Arizona and 42 percent in both Texas and California.
Those numbers do not represent a mass exodus of city-dwelling Americans to rural areas; rather, they reflect the National Center for Education Statistics’ new classification system for defining rural, suburban, and urban schools.
Under the new system, the designation of small-town and rural schools will be determined in proximity to urban centers. Some states that have many small communities relatively close to large towns or cities, such as Delaware and Rhode Island, will lose a significant number of “rural” students.
According to research by the Rural School and Community Trust, a research and advocacy organization based in Arlington, Va., the change in definitions will result in an increase of 8 percent, or roughly 11,800 students, in rural enrollment across the country. Researchers from the Rural Truest presented some of these findings at the organization’s Rural Education Working Group meeting in Charleston, S.C., earlier this month during a presentation on their biennial report, “Why Rural Matters”, which will be released this fall.
It also will affect which schools are eligible for payments under the federal Rural Education Achievement Program or for exceptions to the “highly qualified teacher” requirement under the No Child Left Behind Act, said Jerry Johnson, a state-policy-studies managerforthe Rural Trust and a professor at Eastern Kentucky University’s department of educational leadership and policy studies.
But researchers, advocates for rural schools, and policymakers also will be able to better determine the percentage of rural districts in states, Mr. Johnson said.
States that have had wide-scale consolidation and have moved to countywide districts now will have more rural districts, he said. For example, Mr. Johnson noted that North Carolina, which has countywide districts, has 115,000 more rural students, or an increase of 23 percent, than it did five years ago. That shift is “definitely the result of the reclassification system,” he said.
A version of this article appeared in the April 25, 2007 edition of Education Week