“It goes without saying that U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who spent his educational career in big-city settings, is not as attuned to the needs of rural districts as the needs of urban ones,” writes Education Week blogger Michele McNeil. McNeil recounts a town hall meeting Duncan held with Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack in Hamlet, North Carolina, 90 minutes outside Charlotte. Somebody at the forum asked Duncan about housing problems faced by rural educators and, McNeil writes, Duncan, who headed the schools in Chicago, said he was talking with Housing and Urban Development about what might be done. “To which Vilsack amusingly chided his peer that HUD is for urban housing, and that his ag department could actually be a resource for rural housing issues,” McNeil recalls.
Duncan was asked about the problem of recruiting new principals and superintendents to rural areas. He replied that recruiting good leaders isn’t “unique to rural communities.” McNeil writes, “But certainly the context is different” between urban and rural, a fact that seems beyond Duncan at this point. Duncan promotes charter schools, for example, but nobody at the forum asked about them because they won’t work well in an area with few students.
“I’m told that Duncan’s staff is trying to figure out how to ensure that the rural perspective factors into their policymaking,” McNeil writes. “What’s still unclear is whether contextual factors, such as the rural or urban character of a state, will factor into that all-important $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition.”