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Abstract

To help build capacity among PK-12 school leaders and policymakers whose decisions can impact rural settings, often without full understanding of the nuances most salient to rural places, this study asked (1) To what extent do education researchers account for geographic locale in their reporting? (2) Do highly ranked journals account for geographic locale in their reporting more readily than education research in general? Hybridizing three systematic approaches to literature review—rapid, mapping, and scoping—the study examined a population-level dataset of nearly 109,000 school-focused, peer-reviewed articles in ERIC during a 10-year period and dove deeper into 4,001 articles from highly ranked journals. Overall, we found that more than 85% of the literature base ignores geographic locale entirely. Next, we revealed stunning overrepresentation of city/urban schools, proportionality in towns, and underrepresentation for suburbs, but especially clear neglect for rurality and remoteness. Furthermore, more than 90% of the few studies that invoked “rural” never defined the term. Ultimately, our findings support recommendations for school leaders and policymakers to only employ research that clarifies the ‘who’ and ‘where’ of studies, aiding their determinations of whether research can be adapted for—or should be entirely discounted from—local use. We also advocate that researchers embrace geographic locale as an essential, measurable school characteristic; standardize use of National Center for Education Statistics’ Urban-Centric codes as a definitional framework; and avoid imaginary urban-rural dichotomies.

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