"Rural" is defined as sparsely settled, agricultural country or "non-metropolitan areas." But, over a decade ago, 18 percent of the schools identified as rural were in metropolitan areas. Many of those schools were less likely to offer bilingual education and English as a second language, and were more likely to have more home economics classes than science and math, according to the author Hobart L. Harmon and the National Education Association.
Over the years, the definition of "rural" has evolved, as have the challenges.
In 2010, nearly one-half of all U.S. school districts were in rural areas, educating 10 million children— approximately one-fifth of the student population. North Carolina topped the nation in total rural school enrollment, with almost 700,000 students enrolled in its rural schools. Nearly half of those students live below the poverty line and only 66.5 percent graduate from high school.
In 2007, 75 percent of rural students were predominantly white, nearly 11 percent were Hispanic and 10 percent were black. But those numbers change dramatically for high-poverty rural districts, where 59 percent of the students are children of color — 28 percent black, 23 percent Hispanic, and 8 percent Native American, according to Marty Strange, policy director for the Rural School and Community Trust.
There is also the problem of transportation in some rural areas, especially during bad weather, which can force student absences. But on the bright side, many rural areas have become more digitally equipped to address this issue. According to Michael Dailey, Director of Next Generation Professionals, Department of Education of Kentucky, our rural "Bluegrass" state is further developing processes by which students can access coursework online so as not to be absent, even if they can’t make it to school.
The teaching economy in these areas, which is usually consistent with that of the community, also poses challenges. Rural teachers earn approximately 11 percent less than their urban counterparts and superintendent turnover is especially high in schools with less than a few hundred students - the average student population in rural schools.
As we strive to be more culturally responsive in our teaching and student outreach, let us remember that culture is not just about race, or the "race to the top." Our culture needs a growing inward look and a glowing outlook. This requires non-myopic views of where we're from, nurtured visions of where we must go, and more than adequate provisions to get there.
Our rural landscape is not to be escaped, but to be embraced and reshaped to inspire and deliver a quality education vehicle for all riders, with no child - rural or urban - left behind.
Brenda Martin is the 2011 delegate to Parenting magazine’s Mom Congress.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.