Rural Colorado students less likely to drop out of school

Rural students in Colorado are less likely than their urban and suburban counterparts to drop out of school, says a new report conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins University:

In smaller schools located in smaller communities, it is much more difficult for students to slip through the cracks and hide from school. If a student is not in school, people notice. Accountability is clearer and easier than in larger system. Lack of distracting social alternatives in the rural community may also contribute to students making the choice to go to school each day.

The report went on to suggest that some of the more successful urban programs may, in fact, be successful because they are replicating elements of rural schools:

School engagement is easier when the populations are smaller and when the community is smaller. Urban experiments like the Harlem Children’s Zone or the Knowledge is Power Programs (KIPP Schools) are examples of these rural success factors at work:  smaller classes, extended learning, staff who know and attach to students because the scale is manageable.

The report also found that variables assumed to be associated with dropout rates in rural districts were not. None of the following, for example, had any appreciable affect on dropout rates:  Poverty, homelessness, percentage of second-language learners, percent of students in special education, district revenue or teacher turnover.

So what does affect dropout rates in Colorado’s rural districts? Districts with after-school and extended learning opportunities had much lower dropout rates. “These after-school activities seem to help students engage at school and feel connected to the overall educational enterprise, resulting in lower dropout rates,” wrote the report’s authors.

But the authors also note that this study just begins to explore the subject of why rural students drop out of school, or don’t. Noting that dropout rates in rural districts have long received far less scrutiny than dropout rates in urban districts, the researchers say they are still left with more questions than answers:

The idea that size matters is evident, but what of small schools with big classes? Are students attached better to school because of size alone or is the quality of the experience different? What is it that gets students up in the morning to travel long distances on school buses in order to get to school? Is the quality of teaching different in rural schools?

School dropouts in Rural Colorado Districts” was commissioned as part of the Colorado Graduates Initiative, a private partnership that works closely with the office of Governor Bill Ritter and the Colorado Department of Education to improve Colorado’s graduation rate.

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Katie Redding

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