Rural Schools

All school districts must maintain a certain set of services no matter what the location, including facilities, staff, transportation and food services. It costs a small school more to provide these services. Rural schools face many challenges in acquiring the financial and human resources necessary to offer the quality of education students need. Rural school districts have a harder time attracting and retaining teachers and administrators.

Small schools are often seen as a stepping stone to suburban schools where there is better pay, possibly fewer classes to prepare for and other perks. Rural districts may have difficulty offering advanced academic or vocational courses due to finances and available personnel. Rural school districts face closing or consolidating schools due to population loss or perceived cost saving measures.


Dr. John Hill, Executive Director, National Rural Education Association
Telephone: 765.494.0086

There are more organizations related to Schools in the organizations section.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the definition of a rural and/or small school?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the definition of rural schools was revised in 2006 after working with the Census Bureau to create a new locale classification system to capitalize on improved geocoding technology and the 2000 Office of Management and Budget definitions of metro areas that rely less on population size and county boundaries than proximity of an address to an urbanized area. Small schools do not necessarily mean rural, and rural does not mean small. A small school could be an urban school with a decreasing population. Rural schools can be large due to the center school concept where students are bused in to one school to save on costs. Some schools are considered small when compared to the mega-schools of several thousand that are common in some districts. A small school could be one designed to accommodate a specific population of students and their unique needs or a private school. Rural and/or small schools have similar needs and concerns.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the definition of "small rural schools" are those schools eligible to participate in the Small Rural School Achievement (SRSA) program. SRSA includes districts with average daily attendance of fewer than 600 students, or districts in which all schools are located in counties with a population density of fewer than 10 persons per square mile AND all schools served by the districts are located in a rural area with a school locale code of 7 or 8.

Metro Status Codes and Locale Codes are classification systems that have been used to determine what schools are considered rural. All have strengths and drawbacks.

  • Metro Status codes
    Developed by the Office of Management and Budget and used by the Census Bureau. This system determines the location of the superintendent and assigns a 1 if that physical location is within the central city of a Core Based Statistical Area (CBSA), a 2 if the physical location is within a CBSA, but not in the central city, and a 3 of the location is outside a CBSA.
  • Locale codes
    Also known as the Johnson codes, they were developed by National Center for Educational Statistics in the 1990s (and revised in 2002) for general description, sampling, and other statistical purposes. This coding system is based on both the proximity to metropolitan areas and on population size and density.

What is the No Child Left Behind Act?

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) was signed into law on January 8, 2002. The law sets deadlines for states to expand the scope and frequency of student testing, revamp their accountability systems and guarantee that every teacher is qualified in their subject area. The act requires states to make demonstrable annual progress in raising the percentage of students proficient in reading and math, and in narrowing the test-score gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students. All core academic classes such as math and English must be taught by qualified teachers. This requirement would mean a teacher has at least a bachelor's degree, has received state certification and has demonstrated subject-area competency.

See how your state is doing in fulfilling the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.

There is some flexibility regarding specific requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. This voluntary opportunity provides educators and state and local leaders with flexibility regarding specific requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act in exchange for rigorous and comprehensive state-developed plans designed to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps, increase equity, and improve the quality of instruction.

How are rural schools going to meet the teacher quality requirements of NCLB?

The National Association of State Boards of Education recognizes that limited resources, smaller economies of scale, isolated communities, sprawling distances, and attracting and retaining highly qualified teachers are issues which make certain education reforms especially difficult in rural areas.

Challenges such as teacher compensation in rural areas, and recruiting and retaining teachers in rural areas are just a few of the many issues that face rural schools in complying with the NCLB Act. For more information, see New No Child Left Behind Flexibility: Highly Qualified Teachers.

What is school consolidation?

School consolidation is the process of dissolving or reorganizing one or more schools or school districts into one new unit. There are arguments for and against consolidation of schools. Consolidation of small schools has frequently been used to try and achieve cost savings and to improve the quality of education. The loss of a school has a significant impact on the future of a community.

What programs are available to provide needy children with free or reduced-price lunches?

There are several programs available, including summer food programs while school is not in session, after-school food programs, school breakfast programs and in-school lunch programs.

  • National School Lunch Program
    A federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. The program also provides the School Breakfast Program.
  • School Breakfast Program
    Provides cash assistance to states to operate nonprofit breakfast programs in schools and residential childcare institutions.
  • School Breakfast Toolkit
    Designed for individuals who have an interest in increasing access to the School Breakfast Program.
  • Special Milk Program
    Provides milk to children in schools and childcare institutions who do not participate in other Federal meal service programs. The program reimburses schools for the milk they serve.
  • Summer Food Service Program
    The single largest Federal resource available for local sponsors who want to combine a feeding program with a summer activity program.

How can our rural area start an after-school program?

There are several organizations that can help you start an after-school program:

  • Afterschool Alliance
    A non-profit organization working to give all children and youth access to quality, affordable afterschool programs. This organization has step-by-step information for those individuals, parents, and schools interested in starting an afterschool program.
  • Lights On Afterschool!
    Sponsored by the Afterschool Alliance. It's a nationwide program which draws attention to afterschool programs and the resources required to keep the lights on and the doors open.

Is there a list of state rural education associations?

Yes. The U.S. Department of Education maintains a listing of Rural Education Achievement Program Coordinators and the National Rural Education Association also has a listing of State Affiliate Organizations.

How are schools addressing the shortage of health professionals and getting students interested in health careers?

Schools are partnering with Area Health Education Centers (AHECs) which provide health career recruitment programs for students. AHEC initiatives work to address health care workforce issues by exposing students to health care career opportunities that they otherwise would not have encountered. AHECs are also involved in hosting career fairs for a school to display the variety of careers within the health care industry.

For example, the West Virginia AHEC is involved in health workforce pipeline programs for K-16 including the following: high school health career clubs that meet monthly; shadowing opportunities for high school students at Federally Qualified Health Centers and their affiliated school-based health centers; shadowing opportunities for pre-professional services such as MCAT preparation; health careers presentations and health career fairs that target middle and high schools or Health Occupations of America (HOSA) clubs; and other projects with HOSA that include opportunities for students to learn from robotic stimulators. In the May 2012 issue of Health Workforce News, Sandra Pope, Director of the West Virginia Area Health Education Center, shares more about her work partnering with schools.