Last Updated: May 27, 2014
This article appeared in the May 2014 Rural Policy Matters.
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The Rural Trust has released Why Rural Matters 2013–14. The report is the seventh in a biennial series analyzing the contexts and conditions of rural education in each of the 50 states.
The report, authored by Jerry Johnson, Daniel Showalter, Robert Klein, and Christine Lester, is a widely-referenced examination of issues in rural education. It highlights the complexity of rural education and the variety of schools, districts, student demographics, policy contexts, and socioeconomic circumstances in rural places across the country.
As in previous reports, the goal is to call attention to the need for policymakers to address rural education issues in their states. This year’s report includes 24 indicators organized in five gauges.
Gauges and Indicators
Each edition of Why Rural Matters uses a slightly different set of indicators and gauges through which to consider issues affecting rural education in each state. This variety reflects the many ways in which factors affecting rural schools can be considered.
The Importance Gauge includes indicators related to the number and percentage rural students, schools, small rural districts; state education funds allocated to rural districts; and the total number of rural students.
The Student and Family Diversity Gauge measures the percentage and number of rural minority students as well as the percentage of rural students learning English and those with Individualized Education Plan. The gauge also measures the percentage of rural household mobility.
The Socioeconomic Challenges Gauge, appearing for the first time since the 2007 edition of Why Rural Matters, considers economic challenges in rural communities. It includes percentage of rural adults with a high school diploma; percentage of rural students eligible for Title I; and percentage of rural students eligible for free or reduced price lunches. In addition the gauge includes rural adult unemployment rate and rural median household income.
The Educational Policy Context Gauge examines ways in which each state addresses rural education issues in state policy. Indicators include rural instructional expenditures per pupil; salary expenditures; ratio of instructional to transportation expenditures; median organizational scale; and state revenue to schools per local dollar.
The Educational Outcomes Gauge measures fourth and eighth grade scores on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and math tests.
Each state is given a priority ranking in each gauge and an overall ranking. Although indicators have varied from report to report over the series, certain states consistently rank high in terms of both importance (how much rural education affects the state's overall educational outcomes) and urgency (the relative challenges facing rural education in the state).
These consistently high-ranking states are concentrated in the South, Southwest, and Appalachia. They tend to have relatively large rural populations, multiple challenges, and policy environments that need strengthening to improve rural outcomes.
Within states there is significant variation among rural schools. Those with high concentrations of poverty and other challenges are typically concentrated in geographic regions. The authors caution that state averages can mask these variations and note that all states have both challenges and opportunities with regard to rural education, regardless of their relative rankings.
Early childhood education
Why Rural Matters (WRM) 2013–14 includes a new section on early childhood education and development. The conditions in which children spend their earliest years have significant bearing on children’s educational attainment and other outcomes.
The report considers key factors in child development, including economic and social prosperity, early care and education, teen parenting, adverse early experiences, mental health, breastfeeding rate and duration, childcare quality and affordability, and early disparities in learning and social-emotional development.
The section includes a state-by-state summary of characteristics of rural children and an extensive set of information and links to data and programs related to early childhood.
Highlights of Why Rural Matters 2013–14
Nearly 10,000,000 rural students. Almost ten million public school students in the U.S. were enrolled in rural school districts in the 2010–11 school year. That number accounts for 20% of the nation’s total public school enrollment.
Increasing numbers of rural students. The total population of rural students continues to grow. Growth in rural school districts increased while enrollment in non-rural districts decreased over the same time period.
Increasing poverty. Not only is total enrollment in rural schools growing, but the percentages of students who are eligible for free or reduced priced lunch increased from 41% to 46.6% between 2008–09 and 2010–11.
Increasing numbers of minority students. Rural schools are becoming more diverse. Between 2008–09 and 2010–11, minority enrollment in rural districts grew by 5.1%
Rural education: an important part of the national education landscape
Rural school enrollment continues to grow and rural education issues are becoming more complex. These trends are widespread but most intense in the South, Southwest, and parts of Appalachia.
Rural education is an important part of the national education landscape, one that needs the attention of policymakers.
Why Rural Matters 2013–14:
Read more from the May 2014 Rural Policy Matters.