Saturday, January 19, 2008

But What about Rural Schools?

A front page story on the NYTimes this week featured the headline: "Urban Schools Aiming Higher than Diploma." It talks about a trend in urban schools to put all students on track to attend college and compares urban schools with suburban ones in this regard. Not a word is included, however, about rural schools. Yet the most recent statistics available (from 2004) indicate that while 37 % of urban and suburban students went on to college, only 24% of rural students did so. That's a sizable gap.

This made me wonder about the aspirations of your average rural high school -- if there is such a thing as "average" in this context, given the vast regional, funding, and cultural differences among rural school districts. Rural students often face the obstacle of physical distance in literally getting to school, but myriad additional challenges prevent them from realizing their potential with college degrees. First, education is often under-valued in rural areas, where a college degree often dictates a departure from the rural place. A quick search of my hometown newspaper turned up this recent story which shows how little locals value education: an overwhelming "no" vote, 701 to 90, on a millage increase for maintenance and debt retirement of the district's two schools. At the same time, the nearest community colleges are 30-40 miles away for many of the county's residents. Given these economic and spatial realities, what are rural schools to do if they want to put more students on the path to college?

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