The State of Education in Alabama's K-12 Rural Public Schools

By Lindahl, Ronald A. | Rural Educator, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

The State of Education in Alabama's K-12 Rural Public Schools


Lindahl, Ronald A., Rural Educator


The purpose of this study was to compare Alabama's rural school districts with its city, suburban, and town districts. Descriptive statistics were used for this population study, with effect sizes calculated using Cohen's d. Findings indicated Alabama's rural school districts serve slightly less affluent student populations, with a lower percentage of minority students, than their counterparts. They are funded at slightly lower levels than their counterparts in other categories, yet spend approximately the same percentage of their budgets on administration and on instruction. They spend a considerably higher percentage on transportation. Although rural district dropout rates are similar to those of their counterparts, from the third to the eleventh grade, student performance on standardized examinations falls gradually behind that of the students in other locale categories.

Keywords: Alabama schools; rural schools; student performance; school funding

Alabama is among the 13 states where rural education is most important to the overall educational performance of the state (Johnson & Strange, 2007, p. i), yet it is among the four states least conducive to rural educational achievement (p. ii). Clearly, rural education is one aspect of the public educational system that merits serious attention, particularly in Alabama. Unfortunately, as Arnold (2004) noted, "[Relatively little high quality research has been conducted about rural education issues over the past two decades" (n.p.). This study attempts to add to that knowledge base by investigating the levels of student achievement in Alabama's rural schools, as compared to their town, suburban, and city counterparts. It also compares the socio-economic levels of students, racial/ethnic diversity, per-pupil expenditures, revenue sources, and expenditures for instruction, administration, and transportation.

Research Questions

Arnold (2004) identified some high priority areas for rural schools research. Two of those areas - student achievement and school finance - were selected as the focus of this investigation into Alabama's rural public schools. Against that backdrop, the research questions that guided this study were:

1. What are the levels of student academic achievement in Alabama's rural schools, as measured by:

(a) scores on selected standardized examinations

(b) projected four-year dropout rates

(c) percentages of students in career and technical programs

2. How do rural student achievement levels compare to those of students in Alabama's town, suburban, and city public school districts?

3. To what extent does the socio-economic level of the students the districts serve vary by the locale of the district?

4. To what extent do per-pupil expenditures vary in relation to the locale of the school district?

5. To what extent do the percentages of funds districts spend on instruction, administration, and transportation vary by the locale of the school district?

6. To what extent do revenue sources vary by the locale of the district?

Research on Rural Schools

The purpose of this brief review of the research on rural schools is to present the major national findings related to the variables examined, which include student achievement, transportation issues, socio-economic characteristics of rural schools, financial issues affecting rural schools, and district and school size considerations.

Student Performance in Rural Schools

It is crucial to recognize that rural schools differ greatly from each other (Rural Education, 2004). Lee and Mclntire (2000) concluded that rural students perform significantly better than non-rural students in some states, but significantly poorer in others. Analysis of the 2003 NAEP data revealed both fourth and eighth grade students in rural schools perform at similar levels in reading and math to students in suburban schools, but slightly better than city students (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2003). …

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