Rural Ed Technical Paper

Project Information

Principal Investigator: Susan Sheridan
Co-Principal Investigator: James Bovaird
Funding Agency: IES
Award Date:
Theme: Rural Education, Research Methodology
Project URL:

For more information please contact Susan Sheridan at


The unique contexts and features of rural education systems lead to the need for realistic approaches and solutions for conducting research on these systems. The defining features of rural education include limited resources, isolation and low population density, yet a strong sense of community. A number of unique conditions associated with conducting research in rural settings, including small populations, heterogeneity of settings, restricted access to participants and limited resources, are intrinsic to the subject matter; these factors cannot be controlled or eliminated.

The field’s research yield may be enhanced through the development, translation and transfer of approaches popularized in other research settings, such as investigations of special populations and samples residing in poverty. This report describes some of these potential enhancements and highlights areas in which new approaches need to be developed and applied. It also discusses methodological, statistical and design approaches, while maintaining sensitivity to the uniqueness of rural contexts and the common challenges encountered when conducting experimental research in such settings.

The purpose of the rural education technical paper is to:
  • Discuss the characterization of rurality, the common definitions of rurality, how such definitions are typically operationalized and measured, and the ramifications and challenges in defining and measuring rurality.
  • Discuss the importance of experimental control in generating causal inferences from research in rural settings, focusing on the use of randomized control trials (RCTs) as exemplary research designs.
  • Present regression-discontinuity designs, stepped-wedge designs and multiple-baseline designs as alternatives that are considered to achieve acceptable levels of scientific inference, in some cases comparable to RCTs.
  • Discuss how rural education researchers can address challenges with participant recruitment and encourage enrollment. 
  • Discuss innovations in data collection and data reduction being used in rural-based RCTs.
  • Discuss how to monitor, assess and support implementation of programs with high fidelity in rural contexts.