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Rural Students Less Likely to Take High School Science Sequence

Students who graduate from rural schools are less likely than their non-rural peers to have completed a biology, chemistry, and physics course in high school, according to a new federal report.

The National Center for Education Statistics released "The Condition of Education" on Wednesday, an annual report that examines more than 40 aspects of education in the nation, including enrollment characteristics, school populations, and postsecondary education costs. Unlike 2013, this year's report did not include a chapter solely on rural education, but it does compare several data points from rural schools to urban and suburban schools.

The report found that, overall, the percentage of high school graduates who have completed certain math and science courses in high school increased between 1990 and 2009. But a disparity exists between rural students and their nonrural peers. In 2009, only 20 percent of graduates from rural areas had taken courses in biology, chemistry, and physics in high school, compared to 32 percent of graduates in city schools and 39 percent in suburban schools.

Some research has found that rural science teachers are less likely than urban science teachers to have majored in science or have a graduate degree in science. That means they may have taken fewer math and science courses than science teachers in urban areas. Many rural schools struggle to attract and retain science teachers, which may mean they are unable to offer certain courses.

Some other highlights from the report:

  • English language learners make up 3.9 percent of public student enrollment in rural areas, compared to more than 14 percent in city schools and 9 percent in suburban schools.
  • In the 2011-12 school year, 24 percent of traditional public schools were in cities, while 34 percent were in rural areas. The majority of charter schools were in cities, while only 16 percent were in rural areas.
  • Rural schools enroll fewer high-poverty students than suburban, town, and city schools. More than one-third of students in city schools are high-poverty, compared to 13 percent of suburban school students, and 10 percent of rural students. 
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