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Student Transience Hard on Rural Schools

Rural school districts in five central U.S. states—particularly districts with high numbers of Native Americans—have "extremely high student mobility rates," a concern that can hinder schools' progress, a new report says. The study by the Institute of Education Sciences suggests the reasons behind that high mobility need further research to better identify ways for rural schools to cope with high rates of student movement.

The IES examined the rates of students changing schools during a school year in Missouri, Colorado, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wyoming. Districts with extremely high mobility, the study concluded, had higher shares of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch than the state average and are located on or near American Indian reservations.

You can get the highlights from a summary of the report, but the complete report provides detailed state- and district-level information in graphics that are worth browsing. It reviews research findings that suggest student mobility is tied directly to academic success, including learning at grade level and dropout rates.

Here's the part that's particularly critical for rural schools, found on page 3 of the full report: "Because rural schools tend to be smaller than others, a small number of mobile students can have a greater influence on a rural school's overall performance than they might have on larger schools."


Rural schools generally have smaller administrative staff and fewer financial resources, the study says, making it hard to cope with transience. One example: difficulty transferring records. Delays can disrupt a student's transition and delay services they require at a new school, particularly special education.

The report goes on to point to the significance of high mobility rates in rural schools on a regional level, as that can affect overall funding and educational outcomes. The concern about Native American students comes alongside increased attention on those schools by the U.S. Department of Education. Read a recent blog post about language study by EdWeek's Mary Ann Zehr.

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