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Schools in rural America face an array of problems every bit as daunting and intractable as those confronting schools in urban communities. In rural communities, graduating students who see no future locally leave town, and a snowball effect begins. These young people are no longer there to start families, to send their children to school, to buy toothpaste from the local druggist, or to buy houses from the local realtor. A "brain drain" leaves fewer high-quality workers to attract high-quality jobs. Fewer high-quality jobs mean even fewer opportunities for the next generation of students, who will find themselves forced by economic necessity to leave the community.

In fact, in 22 states more than half of all rural schools lost students between the 1994-95 and 1997-98 school years, according to the newsletter Rural Policy Matters. Those states with the highest percentages of enrollment loss were Louisiana, Idaho, North Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming. States with large rural populations have begun to face these and other problems of rural schooling directly.

States are beginning to address this problem, however, by expanding educational access for students, grassroots organizing, policy research, and training for rural activities and school boards. Many states have developed comprehensive plans for recruiting and retaining teachers and administrators.

Source: "Stateline," Phi Delta Kappan, Kathy Christie, February 2001. Reprinted with permission.

 

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