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Poor Rural Mass. Students Outscoring Urban Classmates

Rural Massachusetts students in poverty generally are outperforming their urban peers, and that's a change from 10 years ago when they were farther behind, according to a new analysis.

Low-income rural students have improved faster during the last decade on their graduation rates and state standardized test scores, and that may be because urban students are poorer and more likely to speak languages other than English, according to "Urban and Rural Poverty and Student Achievement in Massachusetts," by Jon Ardon. The paper was published by the
Pioneer Institute, an independent research organization aiming to improve the state's quality of life, and its Center for School Reform, which advocates accountability and increasing options to families.

Massachusetts is a state that's not often discussed here on the Rural Ed blog because of its relatively small rural student population—only 11 percent of the state's students live in rural areas—but the new analysis had some worthwhile insights about poverty and how it affects students in different geographic areas.

Massachusetts is one of the wealthiest states in the country (ranking No. 8), but it still has its share of residents living in poverty (20 percent of households have income less than $25,000, compared to 24 percent nationally). And while many low-income families are concentrated in urban areas, pockets can be found in rural communities, too.

Among the paper's key findings were that students of all incomes had improved their performance over 10 years, but the income gap hadn't changed significantly. That said, poor rural students were earning higher scores than their urban classmates; those same urban districts also had poverty rates nearly three times higher than rural ones.

The paper didn't discuss the implications of its findings. A guest editorial published by the study's author in a Masssachusetts newspaper, the Taunton Daily Gazette in Taunton, focused on the needs of urban kids rather than rural students. Ardon suggested giving urban students more options, such as charter schools, as well as expanding access to vocational and technical schools, and allowing more students to transfer to schools in other communities.

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