Although schools in rural areas traditionally hit roadblocks when it comes to securing technology tools and high-speed internet access in classrooms and student homes, a new study suggests students in those schools actually outperform their urban and suburban peers in access at school.

The data comes from data management and learning analytics firm BrightBytes, which analyzed more than 180 million data points collected via a national survey gauging educational technology access, use and effectiveness across 8,558 U.S. schools.

The study compares characteristics of the top 5 percent and bottom 5 percent of schools and looks at factors that impact technology access and use. And according to that data, rural schools outpace urban and suburban schools when it comes to providing technology to students and teachers.

“The report provides district and school leaders with insights into what works to improve student outcomes,” said Teela Watson, Director of Digital Learning at Education Service Center Region 11 in Fort Worth, Texas. “The information has allowed us, for the first time, to accurately and clearly communicate the effectiveness of our technology initiatives.”

(Next page: How urban, suburban and rural schools stack up)

Using the CASE framework, which evaluates technology implementations across four domains (Classroom, Access, Skills, and Environment) in order to help school and district leaders develop a more holistic perspective on technology, the BrightBytes Insights Report considered:

  • Classroom use of technology, including teacher and student integration of technology for communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity
  • Support for technology implementation around areas for professional learning, and the extent to which the school policies, practices, and procedures (3Ps) support the use of technology
  • Student and teacher access to technology at home and at school

Rural schools were disproportionately represented among schools scoring in the top 5 percent for access at school, while suburban schools were disproportionately represented in the bottom 5 percent.

Conversely, suburban schools were disproportionately represented in the top 5 percent of schools for access at home, suggesting that suburban students, who are more likely to have devices of their own, could benefit from policies that allow them to bring their devices to school. Rural students still struggle with access to internet and devices in their homes.

Schools with high rates of students receiving free or reduced price lunch scored lower across all domains analyzed except professional learning, indicating that teachers have the freedom to influence their own professional development regardless of their school characteristics.

However, the data, which show low scores for the 3Ps in populations with high free or reduced price lunch rates, suggest that teachers are having difficulty transferring new skills and strategies to the classroom due to the impact of administrative decisions on technology integration.

“Drawing on millions of data points from schools around the country, this report provides critical insights into the relationship between school characteristics, such as geographical setting, and successful implementation of technology. It provides a way forward for schools–whether they are rural, urban, or suburban–to adopt the technologies necessary for building a stronger future for their students,” said former North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue, who authored the foreword to the new report.

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. When she isn't wrangling her two children, Laura enjoys running, photography, home improvement, and rooting for the Terps. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura http://twitter.com/eSN_Laura