News Release

Rural Schools Score Above Average in Most States, But Too Many Rural Teens Forgo College

October 22, 2003

An analysis of state tests shows that rural schools perform above average in most states, but fewer rural teens apply to college than their suburban and urban peers.

“Nationwide, tens of thousands of rural students are slipping through the cracks in the transition from high school to college,” writes Tom Loveless, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution. “The result is the loss of potential for rural youth and a loss of talent for the nation’s colleges and universities.”

The 2003 Brown Center Report on American Education, to be released at an event at the Brookings Institution at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 22, examines rural school performance, including dropout and college application rates, as part of a larger study of national achievement trends. The report also looks at charter school achievement over a three-year period and reveals a surprising finding: charters run by educational management organizations (EMOs) are making greater gains in student achievement than regular charter schools.

Rural schools are often overlooked by education reformers and policymakers despite the challenges in gaining sufficient financial resources and well-trained teachers, the report says. Difficulties in recruiting new teachers make it hard for rural schools to comply with the requirement—part of the federal No Child Left Behind law—that teachers major in the academic subject they teach or pass a test demonstrating mastery of the subject, Loveless writes.

The section on rural schools synthesizes data from several sources, including an analysis of rural school achievement using data collected by Brown Center researchers. Rural schools typically score above average on state tests. Rural schools also enjoy broad support from parents and their communities, and rural students give their teachers higher marks on such aspects of teaching as understanding the subject matter, helping students, and maintaining order in the classroom, Loveless writes, referring to findings of a survey conducted by Metropolitan Life.

Rural schools reported a lower drop-out rate in the senior year, but only 54.3 percent of rural seniors apply to college, compared to 56.5 percent of urban and 61.6 percent of suburban seniors, Loveless reports. These findings are from data gathered by the National Center for Education Statistics in 1993-94.

Data from the 2002 National Assessment of Educational Progress show that rural fourth- and eighth-graders achieve at levels similar to suburban students in reading. By the twelfth grade, rural students score about the same as urban students, two points below the national average of 287. Rural students appear to do better on achievement tests in elementary school than in high school.

National Trends The report also presents an analysis of national trends in math and reading as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) from the early 1990s to 2003. State test results in math and reading in 2001 and 2002 are examined and compared to test results from NAEP. Both federal and state test results indicate that student achievement continues to improve in reading and math, but at a slower pace than a few years ago. Math gains outpace reading gains, and elementary school children are improving more than middle and high school students. Twelfth-grade scores in reading actually declined in the NAEP. One-fourth of high school seniors, or 700,000 students, do not have the basic skills required for meaningful work or success in higher education, Loveless writes.

Charter Schools The Brown Center Report also examines charter school achievement over time, focusing on the question of expertise and whether it makes a difference in operating high-achieving schools. Loveless compared the test scores of charter schools run by educational management organizations (EMOs) to scores of other charters and regular public schools. Most of the EMO-operated charters are located in Michigan (Sixty-two of the total ninety EMO charters in the study). Loveless found that the charter schools run by EMOs actually made greater gains than other charter schools and regular public schools from 2000 to 2002.

The 2003 Brown Center Report also includes a national study on the homework habits of U.S. students, which was released at Brookings on October 1.

About the Brown Center on Education Policy

Established in 1992, the Brown Center on Education Policy conducts research on topics in American education, with a special focus on efforts to improve academic achievement in elementary and secondary schools. The Brown Center is part of the Brookings Institution, a private, nonprofit organization devoted to research, education, and publication on important issues of domestic and foreign policy. The Institution maintains a position of neutrality on issues of public policy. Interpretations or conclusions in Brookings publications should be understood to be solely those of the authors.

For a full copy of the report as well as information about other Brown Center events and publications, please visit the Brown Center’s Web site at, or call Tucker Warren at 202/457-8100.

About Brookings

The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. Our mission is to conduct in-depth, nonpartisan research to improve policy and governance at local, national, and global levels.