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Wide-Open Spaces: Schooling in Rural America Today

Kelly Robson
Phillip Burgoyne-Allen
Juliet Squire
Jeff Schulz
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Title image for Bellwether publication "Wide Open Spaces: Schooling in Rural America Today," December 2019Fourteen percent of the nation’s population lives in rural communities, and one in five K-12 students attends a rural school — a substantial proportion of America’s school population. Despite increased attention from the national education policy community in recent years, too many rural communities and schools continue to struggle to provide their students with quality educational opportunities. Common approaches to education reform that may work in urban communities often fail to take into account the unique assets and challenges facing rural schools.

Wide-Open Spaces: Schooling in Rural America Today” provides education policymakers with a factbase on America’s rural schools and communities: the economic and academic challenges they face, their unique assets, and opportunities for improvement. This resource highlights some of the challenges facing schools and students, including limited economic opportunity, poor access to healthcare, and social challenges like drug addiction. It also provides an overview of available data on student outcomes, including National Assessment of Educational Progress data and graduation rates. These data reveal that while rural students appear to be doing better on average than students in some other geographies, there are real gaps among subgroups and barriers to postsecondary opportunities that hinder many rural students from achieving their full academic potential. 

Even so, rural communities’ assets provide opportunities to create and sustain meaningful change. Compared with other geographies, rural communities tend to place high value on civic and community engagement and support tight-knit networks among residents. Community members tend to have a deep sense of and commitment to place that dates back generations. And at a state and national level, rural communities represent a powerful political voice.

Wide-Open Spaces: Schooling in Rural America Today” aims to equip advocates, decision-makers, and other stakeholders with a shared understanding of rural education to generate a more accurate and nuanced policy response.

Download the report here or read it in the viewer below.