Monday, November 19, 2012

A look at the problems of Georgia's rural schools reflects problems seen in many states

Overall, rural public schools underperform when compared to their suburban counterparts. Two journalists investigated the disparities facing Georgia's rural schools, highlighting the national problem. Kelly Guckian and Jaime Sarrio of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution focused on college preparation and found that high-achieving students in Georgia's rural schools are more likely to need remedial help in college and score lower on the SAT than students in Georgia's suburban schools. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford: school bus in rural Wilcox County)

Guckian and Sorrio discovered several reasons for the stark disparities. Mostly it's all about money and location. Only 5 percent of rural students take advanced placement exams, compared to more than 20 percent in suburbs; rural districts spend about $400 less than other per student; and rural teachers don't have as many opportunities for training and development. Rural superintendents told Guckian and Sorrio that more money doesn't necessarily mean students will be successful, but they can't afford educational extras that are standard at suburban schools, giving their students a systemic disadvantage. Also, Georgia has more counties (159) than any state but Texas, and each has at least one school district, for a total of 198.

Some rural districts have trouble recruiting and retaining qualified teachers. Teacher salaries in rural districts are much lower than in suburban, and many rural communities lack amenities and job opportunities. Guckian and Sorrio report that almost a quarter of new rural teachers come from non-traditional educator programs, like Teach for America, which means they likely don't have teaching experience. (But they can still outdo locally educated teachers, J.J. Snidow reported for the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues this year.) "Educators also battle community apathy toward education that poisons efforts to motivate students," Guckian and Sorrio report. (Read more)

UPDATE, Nov. 23: In another installment of the series, the AJC illustrates the disparity in preparation of students in suburbs and rural areas, starting with the story of a rural valedictorian struggling to stay in a low-level college.

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