Thursday, October 25, 2007

Rural school enrollment up 15 percent last year, with a 55 percent jump in minority students

Enrollment in rural schools is up 15 percent since last year, and minority enrollment is up 55 percent, says the latest report from the Rural School and Community Trust. The jump in enrollment reverses year-by-year trends, yet rural schools, specifically in the South, continue to receive less funding per pupil.

The report also highlights what it calls the "priority states where rural schools produce the worst student achievement outcomes." The report, called "Why Rural Matters 2007: The Realities of Rural Education Growth," was written by Jerry Johnson, the trust's policy research and analysis manager, and Marty Strange, the trust's policy director.

The report ranked states according to 23 factors in five gauges: importance of rural education, socioeconomic challenges, student diversity, policy context and educational outcomes. Based on that, the report found 13 priority states that rank low across these factors: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. These states "serve student populations with the severest socio-economic challenges — especially high poverty levels — and they operate with less money than rural schools in other states," the report says.

The lack of funding and a rise in English Language Learner students, who require more teaching resources, have made difficult situations worse. The report concludes that in those priority states, "poverty, fiscal incapacity, low levels of adult education, and low levels of student achievement run in the same mutually reinforcing circles in states in these regions, many of which are as fiscally challenged as their citizens and schools."

Not surprisingly, one of the report's policy recommendations is a priority for the trust: "Keep schools small. Research shows there are academic benefits for students attending small schools in small districts." Other recommendations:
  • Keep schools small. Concentrate resources in high poverty areas. The cost of teaching low-income children rises disproportionately as the poverty rate increases; more student support per pupil in schools with high poverty rates is needed.
  • Maximize rural school effectiveness and efficiency with technology. Distance learning has been proven to be effective in meeting needs of rural communities.
To download the full report, go here. (Free subscription required.) To read the report overview, see summaries and compare state-by-state results on a clickable map, go here.

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