National Writing Project

Current Challenges and Opportunities in Preparing Rural High School Students for Success

Date: February 2010

Summary: This report challenges many of the myths about rural communities that have led to regional educational inequity and suggests that the nature of rural schools can be conducive to rapid educational change.


Why should education reformers pay attention to rural high schools? And why now? Much of the recent debate over high school reform at the federal level has not involved rural schools; big cities tend to dominate the discussion.

"Out of sight, out of mind" may be one explanation. Another may be a set of erroneous assumptions about education in rural America.

One-third of the nation's high schools are rural, and that number is on the rise, Current Challenges and Opportunities finds. Nationally, one in five children attends a rural school. This growth in enrollment brings new challenges such as growing population diversity in the form of English language learners and additional costs for bilingual teachers, new curricula, and other services.

The report also finds that rural high schools receive disproportionately lower amounts of Title I dollars, the largest source of federal funding for low-income school districts. Often characterized by declining local tax bases, rural school districts also encounter difficulty generating sufficient property tax revenues. Furthermore, rural districts have less staff to apply for additional competitive grant funds.

When one out of every four students fails to graduate from our nation's rural high schools, it's not just a 'local' issue; it's a national crisis.

—Bob Wise, President, Alliance for Excellent Education

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