After years of steady decline, enrollment in rural schools increased 15 percent from the 2003-04 school year to 2004-05, largely because of a significant boost in minority students, says a report by the Arlington, Va.-based Rural School and Community Trust.
Using data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the report found that overall enrollment in public schools increased by 602,000 students—or 1 percent—over that one-year period. During that time, the urban school population dropped by 2 percent, but rural schools gained more than 1.3 million students.
The study defines rural schools as those that are located in communities of fewer than 2,500 people.
The number of English-language learners throughout the United States has more than doubled over the past 15 years, which is seven times faster than the overall growth of the student population, says the study. Half of all English-language learners live in rural communities, with the largest increases showing up in states in the southeastern United States. The remote nature of these schools and the lack of adequate funding for English-language-learner programs make it increasingly difficult for rural schools to adequately serve these students, the study concludes.
The report says that rural low-income, minority, and English-language learners were better served in smaller schools and districts, but the states with the greatest number of such students operated the largest schools and largest districts in the country with the least amount of funding and other resources.
Based on five indicators—the importance of rural education, socioeconomic challenges, student diversity, policy context, and educational outcomes—the study found that Mississippi, Alabama, Arizona, and North Carolina needed the most improvement in their rural schools.
To improve rural education, the report suggests keeping rural schools small, providing adequate resources for low-income areas, and harnessing technology to keep rural schools effective and efficient.
A version of this article appeared in the October 24, 2007 edition of Education Week