Why Rural Matters 2009: Sneak Preview

Last Updated: September 29, 2009

This article appeared in the September 2009 Rural Policy Matters.
An exploration of diversity in the nation’s rural schools is a hallmark of the soon-to-be-released Why Rural Matters 2009, the Rural Trust’s signature biennial report on rural education.
The report analyzes data on rural schools from a variety of sources and perspectives in an effort to emphasize the importance of rural schools within the scope of public education, to highlight the complexities of the rural context, and to call attention to pressing issues facing rural schools nationally and within states as well as to the policies that can be expected to make things better or worse for rural students.
“This year’s report includes a ‘concentrated poverty’ gauge,” says Jerry Johnson, Ph.D., lead researcher for the report. “We look at the 10% of rural districts in each state with the highest poverty rates and compare those districts across states. This gauge provides a measure of the depth of poverty within each state and sheds light on the state policy contexts of students in the most vulnerable circumstances.”
For example, the high school graduation rates for students in these districts range from a low of just 28% in Wyoming to over 90% in Nevada.
The Why Rural Matters (WRM) series, launched in 2000, explores data from a variety of sources and ranks states on 25 different indicators. The 2009 edition groups the indicators in five “gauges,” each of which explores a particular theme.
The 2009 gauges include Importance, which ranks states according to how important rural education is to the overall performance of the state’s public education system. The Student and Family Diversity gauge provides data on the percentage of rural minority students, students who live in poverty, and students and families facing challenges known to contribute to the achievement gap.
The Educational Policy Context gauge provides data on policy issues like school and district size and instructional expenditures that affect student achievement. The Educational Outcomes gauge provides data on how well rural students are doing on standardized tests and graduation rates. And, the Concentrated Poverty gauge applies several key indicators explicitly to the poorest districts.
A number of indicators as well as the Concentrated Poverty gauge are new this year. This is deliberate. Rather than simply update a standard set of measures, WRM uses a number of different lenses through which to analyze the diverse contexts and circumstances of the nation’s rural schools.
Within each indicator individual states are ranked, with states facing the most urgent needs ranked highest. Because some of the indicators change, it is not possible to compare a state’s ranking from one edition of WRM to another. Rather, the rankings help highlight important issues from a variety of perspectives.
As in previous years, many of the states facing the most urgent rural education challenges are concentrated from Appalachia across the southern United States through the southwest.
This year, however, several new states emerged with pressing rural education concerns. Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, North Dakota, Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, New York, and Washington join several southern and southwestern states in facing crucial challenges related to rural educational policy and rural educational outcomes. California ranked high on indicators related to concentrated poverty and student and family diversity, as did Alaska, which had ranked high on diversity in 2007.
Why Rural Matters 2009 will be released later this fall.
Don’t miss Race to Where?, an incisive commentary by Rural Trust Policy Director Marty Strange on some of the issues in the charter guidelines for Race to the Top funding.
Read more from the September 2009 Rural Policy Matters.