A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

To Assure the Free Appropriate Public Education of all Children with Disabilities - 1995

Defining Rural School Districts and Schools

The lack of a clear, widely accepted definition of "rural" has impeded research in the field of rural education. It is necessary to define what areas are rural in order to determine the number of students residing in rural areas, and to describe the characteristics of educational programs for students with disabilities in rural areas. When defining the term rural, population density and remoteness are essential considerations because these factors strongly influence school organization, availability of resources, and economic and social conditions.

The U. S. Census Bureau defines a rural area as one that is not urban. "Urban" is defined as either an urbanized area or places with populations of 2,500 or more outside urbanized areas. An urbanized area includes places and their adjacent densely settled surrounding territory that together have a minimum population of 50,000 (U. S. Department of Commerce, 1992).

Similarly, the Census Bureau defines non-metropolitan counties as those outside metropolitan areas. Metropolitan areas are either (1) those central counties of a large city (population of 50,000 or more) and the outlying counties that have close economic and social ties to the central city, or (2) a Census-defined urbanized area and a total central county population of at least 100,000 (75,000 in New England) (U. S. Department of Commerce,1992). This 1990 definition differs from the 1980 one, which did not specify Census-defined urbanized areas with a total population of 100,000 as metropolitan areas.

Because the geographic size of the areas or counties in the Census Bureau classifications may be relatively large, rural and non-rural territories may be included in any single area or county classified as urban on the basis of its population. In addition, school district lines may cross county lines, making it difficult to classify districts that straddle rural and non-rural counties.

The Common Core of Data (CCD)1 Public Agency file contains information on school districts across the country, including a metropolitan/non-metropolitan code. However, the metropolitan status code assignment is based on the county in which the district office is located. As stated previously, non-metropolitan counties, as defined by the Census Bureau, include all those counties outside metropolitan areas. Because the size of the counties classified under this Census Bureau scheme may be large, rural and non-rural territories may be included in a single county or school district.

The CCD Public School Universe file contains information for each public elementary and secondary school in the country. Locale code assignments are based on the school building mailing address. Rural is defined as a place with less than 2,500 people or a place with a ZIP code designated as rural by the Census Bureau. The locale codes used in the CCD Public School Universe file classify schools more specifically than the CCD Public Agency file because the school codes are tied to a place (related to the school mailing address) rather than a county.

To classify the rural/non-rural status of school districts more precisely, Elder (1992) has created a district-level file that uses locale codes from the CCD Public School Universe file. Because districts may contain rural and non-rural schools, one way to classify districts as rural or non-rural is to examine the percentage of the districts' students that attend rural schools (as recorded in the CCD Public School Universe file). The 1990 data suggest that, based on the types of schools students attend, most districts are either all rural (43 percent) or all non-rural (47 percent). Ten percent of the districts include both rural and non-rural schools.

To classify these mixed rural/non-rural districts as either rural or non-rural, Elder (1992) set a 75 percent cutoff. If the percentage of students in a district attending rural schools is 75 percent or more, the district is classified as rural. Ninety percent of these mixed rural/non-rural districts have less than 75 percent of their students attending rural schools, while 10 percent have over 75 percent in rural schools. Based on this adjustment, 44 percent of all districts are rural. During the 1989-90 school year, 22,412 regular public schools were located in rural areas, or about 28 percent of all regular public schools in the U. S.

Data from the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS)2 suggest slightly lower figures for the 1990-91 school year. An estimated 21,701, or 27 percent, of all public schools were located in rural areas, as defined by the U. S. Census Bureau.

1 The Common Core of Data (CCD) survey collects information o elementary and secondary public education the U.S. Data are collected annually from the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Outlying Areas. A total of 57 State-level educational agencies report information on staff and students for approximately 85,000 public schools and about 15,400 local educational agencies. Information about revenues and expenditures is also collected at the State level (NCES, 1993a).

2 The Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) is an integrated mail survey that provides information on teacher supply and demand, the composition of the administrator and teacher work force, and the status of teaching and schooling generally. SASS has four main components; the Teacher Demand Shortage Survey, the School Administrator Survey, the School Survey, and the Teacher Survey. Respondents include school teachers, school principals, and school district administrators. In 1990-91, some 12,958 schools (public and private and administrators and 65,217 teachers were selected for participation (NCES, 1993b).

[Serving Students with Disabilities in Rural Areas] [Table of Contents] [Number and Characteristics of Students with Disabilities in Rural Districts]