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Rural schools need more federal attention

New report says policies should address the often-overlooked needs of struggling U.S. rural schools

Rural schools need more federal attention
The report helps dispel common myths about rural schools.

The report helps dispel common myths about rural schools.

According to a new report, one out of every four rural students fails to graduate from high school, a problem that owes largely to a lack of attention to the needs of rural schools. From changing Title I formulas to providing cutting-edge technology, it’s time to provide more support to those who need it most, the report says.

Called “Current Challenges and Opportunities in Preparing Rural High School Students for Success in College and Careers: What Federal Policymakers Need to Know,” the report was released by the Alliance for Excellent Education (AEE), a national policy and advocacy organization with a commitment to ensure that all students graduate from high school prepared for success. It was funded by the Walmart Foundation.

According to the report, approximately 3.4 million students attend rural high schools, yet one out of four students fails to graduate. Overall, rural school enrollment is on the rise—up 15 percent over the past several years—but more than 20 percent of the nation’s poorest-performing high schools are located in rural areas.

Students of color, low-income students, English language learners, migrant students, and children with special needs are at even greater risk for dropping out of rural high schools, and college enrollment rates for 18- to 24-year-olds are lower in rural areas than in any other location; only 17 percent of rural adults ages 25 and older have a college degree, which is half the percentage of urban adults.

A larger percentage of teenagers in rural areas, as compared with suburban areas, are neither in school nor employed.

“Much of the recent debate over high school reform at the federal level has not involved rural schools,” said Bob Wise, AEE president and former governor of West Virginia. “Every student in America deserves the chance to graduate from high school ready to succeed in college, careers, and life.”

The report argues that education reformers should pay more attention to rural high schools, because not only do the “principles of equity demand it,” but also because with almost 90 percent of the fastest-growing high-wage jobs now requiring a postsecondary education, “our nation needs every child to be prepared to participate in the global economy.”

The report also says there currently exists an unprecedented opportunity to help reform and support rural schools as a result of the severe state and local government budget crises, coupled with the “national urgency for massive education reform.”

“The federal government will be the driving force,” said Wise. “The traditional educational functions of administration and instruction will remain with the local school districts and states, but the federal government will have the responsibility to provide the commitment and strategic resources for the true innovation.”

Rural schools’ needs

To help government officials and education stakeholders better understand rural schools’ needs, the report describes the many advantages and disadvantages facing rural schools as their leaders strive to provide a high-quality education for all students.

Some of the advantages that rural schools have include a growing access to innovative technology, such as distance-learning infrastructure that can connect students to subject-matter experts in other locations, and high levels of volunteer support from parents and other concerned stakeholders.

“We wear many hats in our district,” said Greg Darling, superintendent of Humboldt Community School District in Humboldt, Iowa—a district with 1,292 students, four schools, and 88 teachers.

“But thankfully, we’re lucky enough to have regional backing. … We have lots of small-town pride.”

Rural schools also have a small student-to-teacher ratio, meaning students can have a closer relationship with their teachers and benefit from individualized learning.

However, rural schools also face many disadvantages, such as shrinking local tax bases, federal and state funding inequities, challenges in recruiting and retaining highly effective teachers and school leaders, limited access to Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses, and the out-migration of young people and professionals.

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Comments:

  1. ninofnebraska

    March 10, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    The information in this artilce does not apply to a significant number of rural schools located in the Great Plains States. I work with numerous distance learning consortiums of high schools and am aware of more than one group of schools – 10 plus high schools that had no drop outs in four or more years. While working in many rural communities with populatiuons from 300 to 1,000 I have not come across a problem with unemployed youth …. some under employed.

  2. ninofnebraska

    March 10, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    The information in this artilce does not apply to a significant number of rural schools located in the Great Plains States. I work with numerous distance learning consortiums of high schools and am aware of more than one group of schools – 10 plus high schools that had no drop outs in four or more years. While working in many rural communities with populatiuons from 300 to 1,000 I have not come across a problem with unemployed youth …. some under employed.

  3. mgozaydin

    March 10, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    ONLINE K12 is the best solution for the rural areas. Plus government can provide 1 to 1 netbooks at a cost of $ 200 or so with $ 5 monthly installments. There are many netbook companies willing to do that .
    Plus state or federal government should not charge anything for the onli,ne courses provided.
    Just ask one of the online peroviding companies to perovide free onkline K12 courses for the rural areas, I am sure they will be more than willing to do so due to popularity such action would bring to them .
    Education requires managers. Managers are required in every aspect of life.

  4. mgozaydin

    March 10, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    ONLINE K12 is the best solution for the rural areas. Plus government can provide 1 to 1 netbooks at a cost of $ 200 or so with $ 5 monthly installments. There are many netbook companies willing to do that .
    Plus state or federal government should not charge anything for the onli,ne courses provided.
    Just ask one of the online peroviding companies to perovide free onkline K12 courses for the rural areas, I am sure they will be more than willing to do so due to popularity such action would bring to them .
    Education requires managers. Managers are required in every aspect of life.

  5. csidell

    March 14, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    The problem with offering online learning in rural school districts is access to the internet. Their is a good chance that if a house does not have access to cable TV, they may be limited to dial-up internet service. High-speed internet could be cost prohibitive. Also, schools will need a network administrator to ensure the service is well maintained and working. If these schools are having difficulties keeping and recruiting strong teachers, it will be even more difficult to find a “computer guy.”

  6. csidell

    March 14, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    The problem with offering online learning in rural school districts is access to the internet. Their is a good chance that if a house does not have access to cable TV, they may be limited to dial-up internet service. High-speed internet could be cost prohibitive. Also, schools will need a network administrator to ensure the service is well maintained and working. If these schools are having difficulties keeping and recruiting strong teachers, it will be even more difficult to find a “computer guy.”

  7. teachmoore

    March 15, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    It might not be true in Nebraska, but the situation described in the article fits the rural schools of the Mississippi Delta and much of the rural Deep South. Csidell is right also; internet access is still a REAL problem in the homes of many of our students (not to mention the well-hidden but very serious homeless student problem). Netbooks and online classes will only be as good as the access and professional development available, but that represents some possibilities.

  8. teachmoore

    March 15, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    It might not be true in Nebraska, but the situation described in the article fits the rural schools of the Mississippi Delta and much of the rural Deep South. Csidell is right also; internet access is still a REAL problem in the homes of many of our students (not to mention the well-hidden but very serious homeless student problem). Netbooks and online classes will only be as good as the access and professional development available, but that represents some possibilities.