Rural States Rank Low on Standards Review

By Mary Schulken — July 21, 2010 3 min read
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Most states with large numbers of rural students—as well as those with the highest percentages of small, rural districts—have language and math guidelines inferior to proposed common academic-content standards, according to a report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

A quick analysis also shows that most states in which the majority of school districts are small and rural have not adopted the higher common standards, developed through the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Several of the more populous rural states, meanwhile, have embraced the voluntary guidelines.

In eight states, at least half of all rural districts are smaller than the 535-student median enrollment size for public school districts nationwide, according to Why Rural Matters 2009, a biennial statistical snapshot compiled by the Rural School and Community Trust and based heavily on information from the National Center for Education Statistics. Those states: North Dakota, Montana, Vermont, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Maine, and Alaska. While the numbers of students in those schools and states may be low, they represent a key constituency in rural education. Such districts are among the nation’s tiniest and most geographically isolated. Many have high percentages of students living at or below the federal poverty level.

The Fordham study judged standards in all but one of those states—Oklahoma—to be inferior to the common standards in both language arts and math guidelines. Oklahoma’s language arts and math guidelines ranked favorably with the common standards.

Only two of those eight states—North Dakota and Oklahoma—have adopted the common standards. (See our updated map below, and keep up with the latest state adoptions of the standards at Curriculum Matters.)

In general, states with high numbers of rural students and rural schools did not fare well in the study of existing state guidelines, although many of them have embraced common standards.

Here’s a summary, by the numbers:

States that have the largest numbers of rural students, according to National Center for Education Statistics information, include, in order of enrollment, North Carolina, Texas, Georgia, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Tennessee, Michigan, California, and Alabama. The four states with the largest rural enrollments—North Carolina, Texas, Georgia, and Ohio—together serve one in four of all rural students in the nation.

Of those, the Fordham study found North Carolina’s and Ohio’s language arts guidelines inferior to the common standards. It ranked Texas too close to call and gave Georgia a B-plus.

In math guidelines, Georgia scored an A-minus, while the other top rural states (North Carolina, Texas, and Ohio) ranked inferior. (To cross-reference all rural states, see the complete list of state rankings accompanying Education Week writer Stephen Sawchuk’s coverage of this issue.)

Seven of those 11 most-populous rural states have adopted the common standards, including North Carolina, Georgia, and Ohio. Texas has not.

Here’s a summary of how majority rural-school states fared:

In 15 states, the majority of schools are classified as rural: South Dakota, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont, Maine, Alaska, Nebraska, Wyoming, Arkansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, Alabama, West Virginia, and Kansas.

The Fordham study gave existing standards in two of those states, Oklahoma and Alabama, a B-plus and a B, respectively, on language arts guidelines. It ranked standards in the rest inferior. For math guidelines, those same two states got B-plus grades, while the rest scored inferior to common standards.

Of the 15 majority rural-school states, only five have adopted common standards: Wyoming, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, and West Virginia.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.