Some states are calling foul over the new and improved teacher quality regulations from the US Department of Education (Vol. 5, No. 7). Responding to a hue and outcry from states like Alaska which have a lot of rural schools, the Department ruled that rural teachers who are already highly qualified in one subject have another year (2007) to become highly qualified in the other subjects they teach.
But the question de jour is how to define rural. (We'll resist the temptation to tell Jeff Foxworthy jokes here.) As a recent article in the Lincoln Journal Star points out, the new regs have been a big letdown for some states that thought they were being given a reprieve. Apparently, it's the population count of the school district that decides if an individual school is rural. Only teachers who work in districts with fewer than 600 students and in communities with fewer than 2,500 people are eligible. Out west, where a school district often consists of only one school, it's easy to be classified as rural. But in the nation's south, school districts often comprise a whole county and include several schools. Though each school in the district may be in itself quite remote and enroll relatively few students, they don't meet the highly rural definition. The result? States like South Carolina discovered they didn't have a single "rural" district, while Montana had 375.
Janice Poda, who directs teacher quality for South Carolina's education department, has this to say: "I probably hurt our state recently (at a federal meeting), when I said I would usually bring greetings from South Carolina, but we are no longer rural - we are having an identity crisis right now." South Carolina ought to fly Secretary Paige down for a tour; it worked wonders for the state of Alaska.