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The big thing in the Obama administration’s education department is charter schools. But who needs school choice in rural communities where there are just a few hundred students. In small districts, what students need are qualified teachers. Education Week reporter Michele McNeil writes that rural schools advocates say policies promoted by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (above) “favor education improvement ideas that are best suited to urban settings. Initiatives such as the Race to the Top Fund competition fail to recognize the distinctive problems facing rural districts, which serve some 13 million students, or about one-quarter of the nation’s public school enrollment, according to the Rural School and Community Trust, based in Arlington, Va.

‘Both Duncan and [President Barack] Obama are so narrowly focused on inner-city solutions for education challenges,’ said South Dakota state Sen. Sandy Jerstad, a Democrat from Sioux Falls and a member of her legislative chamber’s education committee.”

Duncan has heard the criticism from rural schools and is unimpressed. “Rural schools should let their unique challenges become excuses for keeping the status quo,” he wrote in an Ed Week column in June. Still, McNeil notes, when Duncan shows up in a rural community as part of the administration’s “listening tour,” his “answers didn’t seem to distinguish the problems of rural districts from those of their urban counterparts.” Of particular interest to rural educators is the criteria for determining who will receive grants from a $4.35 billion “Race to the Top Fund.” Charter schools are a big part of the formula in that competition.

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