Saturday, February 14, 2009

University of Idaho Briefs

Stats Show Rural Schools Succeeding, Facing Big Challenges, Too
Written by Bill Loftus

MOSCOW – Students in Idaho’s rural schools hold their own when compared with their fellow students in towns and cities, according to a report released Thursday by the University of Idaho and Idaho Rural Partnership.

The statistics gathered by university researchers showed rural schools tended to have lower enrollments and were more likely to be losing students, but they also spent more per student and tended to have smaller class sizes. The report focused on the state’s most rural school districts, those where the biggest town had fewer than 2,500 residents.

Rural students, however, faced challenges, too. They were more likely to come from low-income families and were just as likely to be from families where English is a second language.

Shelby Kerns, Idaho Rural Partnership executive director at Boise, said the report was intended to give Idaho legislators and the public an overview of the success and challenges rural school districts, their students and communities face.

“It’s important that they understand the difference and the facts about what’s really going on in rural districts,” she said.

“Our rural school districts can’t be lumped into any broad generalization,” Kerns said. “Some are doing great and some struggle a little more. Rural students are doing well overall, but there are other challenges we need to address.”

“Rural students tend to be more likely to come from low-income families,” Kerns said. “Those factors create some definite challenges for rural schools because those districts also tend to face greater funding challenges.”

There also are some areas where rural education is doing great, Kerns said, and even outperforming schools in cities and towns.

Among the most notable statistics, she said, included the overall decline in rural school enrollment. Nearly two-thirds of rural schools have lost 10 percent or more of their students over the last 10 years.

“The report confirms what we thought about Idaho’s hard working, rural teachers, school board members, and superintendents,” said Priscilla Salant, the University of Idaho’s coordinator for outreach and engagement and an author on the report. “They’re holding their own against the odds. The question is what’s going to happen when their budgets become even tighter than they are now.”

In addition to the Idaho Rural Partnership and the University of Idaho, the Idaho National Laboratory also provided support for the project. More information is available online at http://www.ag.uidaho.edu/uicsc/ruraled.

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