Rachel's Notes: April 10, 2008

Last Updated: April 10, 2008

The cherry blossoms are beautiful this time of year in DC. I hope the sun is shining on you today, it is just peaking out now after days of gray clouds.

The Perkins College of Education at Stephen Austin University in Texas hosted a National Summit on Rural Education on March 28. Key national leaders participated by video or in person including Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Senator John Coryn (represented by his staff person Michelle Chin), and Congressman Louis Gohmert.

They all made predictable positive statements about rural schools, supporting more broadband connections, and critical of No Child Left Behind. Gohmert spoke positively about the Safe and Secure Rural Schools Act — that provides funding for districts impacted by national forests. There's a huge national forest in his district, something that may surprise people who have not experienced the enormous diversity of Texas.

I presented material from Why Rural Matters 2007 and our current work on the Rural 800, the poorest rural school districts in America. And I answered lots of questions. The College is interested in continuing an online conversation about issues which you can join by going to www.PerkinsCollegeSummit.net and registering.


The Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank headed by John Podesta, who was chief of staff in President Clinton’s second term, commissioned a paper on out-of-school learning opportunities in rural places. Roy Forbes, who has a long distinguished career in rural education in the South, developed the paper and made a couple of very important points while doing a few case studies of after-school programs.

The paper has a good discussion of the diversity of rural places in the country, a point we are forever making. But Forbes goes a step further and suggests the creation of a “ruralness” factor to be applied at the state level to determine eligibility for after-school programs. He suggests that numeric points be assigned for these primary characteristics: size of community, proximity to metro area, population density, and local job availability, and for these secondary characteristics: proximity to an interstate, availability of cell phone service, availability of DSL internet service, level of parental education, and ethnicity. While I might quarrel with what are primary and what are secondary characteristics, the idea of an index of rurality that would influence allocation of resources by the federal government to rural schools is one that I think has great merit.

Forbes also points out that Title I funds, often used to support after school learning opportunities, are distributed unfairly. He is particularly concerned about the inequity that comes from using state expenditures to determine federal expenditures. It simply means that wealthy states get more Title I money because they have more tax resources to spend on schools. The paper can be found at www.americanprogress.org.


George Wood of Federal Hocking High School in southeastern Ohio is one of the current crop of great principals of rural high schools. He has joined with national leaders on education to focus attention on the importance of preparing students to be good citizens of a democracy. His blog this week on the assessment system in his high school is a wonderful statement of what accountability ought to be. And, I might add, a hopeful statement about what is possible today. Read the blog at www.forumforeducation.org/blog/index.php.

As always, keep in contact.

Rachel Tompkins