Thursday, January 10, 2013

Study suggests geographic isolation may cause gap in rural kindergartners' reading and math skills

Rural and urban children entering kindergarten are less likely to have advanced reading and math skills than their suburban counterparts, according to a University of Pittsburgh correlation study published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly. Psychologists Portia Miller and Elizabeth Votruba-Drzal theorize that the very different environments in which rural and urban children are raised from birth to five-years-old contribute to reading and math deficits in similar ways.

The researchers drew conclusions from a study of 6,050 children who were tracked from birth in 2011. They separated children into four areas: rural, suburban, small city and big city. They analyzed academic performance and the students' child-care and home environments. They tried to consider selection bias in the populations to pinpoint potential causes of disparities. This isn't the first research to find early academic deficits in rural kindergartners, but it is unique in reporting some links to early life in a rural environment, Eric Jaffe of The Atlantic reports.

Miller and Votruba-Drzal concluded that rural kindergartners grew up with fewer educational materials and lower rates of commercial or institutional daycare than suburban and small-city children, suggesting that "geographic isolation" may be a "damaging factor" in early childhood academic development, Jaffe reports. The researchers also concluded that rural communities may have fewer "cognitively stimulating" institutions, such as libraries and museums. Rural knowledge about education may also play a role, they concluded, because rural parents in their study "had relatively less knowledge of child development and lower expectations of academic achievement."

Academic deficits in urban centers were harder for the researchers to explain. They assumed that factors outside the scope of their study, including pollution and lack of exposure to nature, might play a role in academic deficits in urban children. (Read more)

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