Distance and income create unique challenges for rural Oregon students | The Chalkboard Project

Distance and income create unique challenges for rural Oregon students

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Rural Oregon students face twin challenges of income and distance in meeting their education goals, according to a study released today by Chalkboard Project and the Children’s Institute.

Rural Education in Oregon: Overcoming the Challenges of Income and Distance examines how rural students perform compared to the rest of the state and to their peers across the country. On average, school districts in rural Oregon are on par with the state’s urban districts in driving achievement for their poor or near-poor students, but fall behind their more affluent urban and suburban peers in steering achievement for their middle class students.

Economic conditions correlate strongly with academic proficiency. Per capita income in rural Oregon is low and has declined precipitously over the past four decades as compared to its urban counterparts. And while Oregon’s rural students perform close to expectations on national exams given the economic conditions of their households, lifting rural families out of poverty would also translate into better school performance.

The study shows that challenges of distance in rural areas appear in at least two indicators: postsecondary attainment and chronic absenteeism. Distances from homes to schools, universities, early learning and development services and health services are often great. The distance factor is likely a primary cause of higher chronic absence rates among students in rural Oregon as well.

“These factors affect not only education for K-12 students, and their likelihood of furthering their education beyond high school,” explains Dana Hepper, director of policy and program and the Children’s Institute, “They also affect families’ access to vital early learning services for their children.”

The study makes key policy recommendations for improving student achievement in rural areas. “We see this analysis as an important step in finding what works in rural Oregon,” concludes Julie Smith, director of educator effectiveness at Chalkboard Project, “Despite these challenges, there are rural districts that are beating the odds and producing better student outcomes than would be expected. These districts may be a good place to start in understanding how these communities are overcoming the unique challenges income and distance create for rural Oregon.”

The study was prepared by ECONorthwest for Chalkboard Project and the Children’s Institute. Chalkboard Project has done a series of reports looking at achievement gaps across the state and among various student groups—African American, Latino, and Oregon tribal students. This is the first analysis by Chalkboard and the Children’s Institute of conditions of education in rural Oregon. Education Northwest, which has conducted extensive analysis of rural education, has additional resources available on its website in Rural and Native Education.

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