Academic journal article Journal of Research in Rural Education (Online)

Identifying, Analyzing, and Communicating Rural: A Quantitative Perspective

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Rural Education (Online)

Identifying, Analyzing, and Communicating Rural: A Quantitative Perspective

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

"Rural" is a theoretical construct, so identifying a theoretical perspective of rural is a critical first step in conducting research on rural education. However, an equally critical (and closely related) step is identifying an operational definition of rural, which is necessary for conducting quantitative rural research. Numerous theoretical and operational definitions have been proposed across a wide array of disciplines, and each of these definitions has its own strengths and weaknesses. Although the challenges of defining rural are well-documented (e.g., Coladarci, 2007; Cromartie & Buc holtz, 2008; Hart, Larson, & Lishner, 2005; Howley, Theobald, & Howley, 2005; Isserman, 2005), discussions have primarily occurred at a theoretical level or do not delve into the issues that arise once a definition has been chosen. Concrete examples and guidelines are needed to ensure that researchers fully understand the extent to which the rural definition impacts the study's sampling design, analysis plan, and generalizability.

The purpose of this article is twofold. First, we aim to remind (or potentially inform) rural researchers how to (a) identify an operational definition of rural given their theoretical perspective and the context and goals of their study, (b) appropriately analyze their data given the chosen operational definition, and (c) accurately communicate their findings given the chosen operational definition. Upon examining several quantitative articles recently published in JRRE, we were generally encouraged by JRRE authors' careful attention to defining and discussing rural at both the theoretical and operational levels. Our goal is to explicate and thus foster and sustain this good practice by providing a comprehensive guide for education researchers seeking to identify, analyze, and communicate rural phenomena. Second, we use data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-99 (ECLS-K; developed by the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], n.d.-a) to illustrate the impact of the rural definition on statistical results and substantive inferences.

It is important to acknowledge that our discussion is primarily intended for researchers conducting quantitative research. Some of our recommendations may not apply to, or may even counter what is recommended for, qualitative research. We believe that both forms of research, in addition to mixed-methods research, are important for understanding rural issues. Thus, we strongly encourage other researchers to advise the field on rural definition issues in the context of qualitative and mixed-methods research.

Identifying, Analyzing, and Communicating Rural

Identifying an Appropriate Definition

Choosing a rural definition influences the entire scope of a study. At the initial planning stages of a study, the definition affects the selection of a sampling design and statistical analysis plan. At the concluding stages of a study, the definition affects the generalizability of the research findings. In this section we provide guidance on identifying an appropriate operational definition of rural given a particular theoretical perspective, while taking into account practical considerations.

Theoretical perspectives. First and foremost, operationalizing rural requires formulating a theoretical perspective of rural. Numerous theories of rural have been postulated. In following the organization scheme of Brown and Schafft(2011), such theories can be broadly classified into one of two groups: place-based theories (e.g., demographic, population, spatial, political economic, and socio-cultural theories) and social constructivist theories.1 We briefly touch on each of these theories below. A full discussion is beyond the scope of this article, so we strongly encourage researchers to consult the original sources and seek out additional references for a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of rural theory. …

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