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Rural Students Fall Behind Suburban Peers in Math

Rural students had a smaller average increase in math achievement during elementary and middle school grades than their suburban peers, and that created a widening achievement gap by the 8th grade, according to a new report.

The same held true for urban students, and most but not all of the lag for rural and urban students could be tied to poverty, said a report released earlier this month by The Carsey Institute, in Durham, N.H.

"Mathematics Achievement Gaps Between Suburban
Students and Their Rural and Urban Peers Increase
Over Time"
looked at whether the geographic location of schools were related to children's achievement in kindergarten, and whether improvements from then until eighth grade were different for those settings.

The research was done by Suzanne Graham, associate professor of education at the University of New Hampshire and faculty fellow at the Carsey Institute, and Lauren Provost, an education doctoral candidate at the University of New Hampshire. The Carsey Institute does research on vulnerable children, youth, and families to give policymakers and practitioners information to affect change.

For this study, the researchers used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which surveyed a nationally representative sample of more than 22,000 children between 1998 and 2006.

They found rural students had lower math achievement than their suburban peers. In addition to a family's socioeconomic status, the study offered a few reasons for the differences, such as: parent education levels, which tend to be lower in rural than in urban or suburban communities; rural children being less likely than urban or suburban children to attend preschool; fewer resources, such as money for teacher salaries and more teacher training, in rural schools; and limited access to technology. All of those factors can limit students' opportunities for learning math.

"Nine percent of rural school district budgets are covered by federal funds, compared with 11 percent of budgets in urban school districts," according to the study. "Low salaries, threats of consolidation, and the geographic isolation of many rural areas make it a challenge for rural districts to attract and retain highly qualified teachers, particularly in high-need subjects such as mathematics."

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