Reducing the Rural Dropout Rate
[imgbelt img=Above_average_dropout_rates.jpg]The unique characteristics of rural places – like connection to place, the central role of schools in community life, increased opportunity to know people across generational divides – could be assets in the struggle to the high-school dropout rate.
The map shows the 1,617 counties where a higher-than-average percentage of the population aged 25 and up has not completed high school. Of this number 1,136 counties are nonmetro (shown in green) and 481 are metro (shown in yellow). Click the map to make it interactive. To see comprehensive county-level data, click the map on the next page.
More than a fifth of rural students don’t finish high school. Unfortunately, we don’t know much about what kinds of programs might help them graduate because research on rural dropout prevention is scarce.
Although usually focused on urban or suburban areas, research indicates that a variety of strategies can improve high school persistence and completion. These include:
- Strengthening school-community connections and family engagement so that everyone is accountable for helping students learn.
- Assigning adult advocates to students at risk of leaving school so youth have trusted mentors who care about them.
- Offering active learning opportunities so that students are full participants in the classroom.
- Providing extra academic support, such as tutoring, study groups or more intensive and enriched school programs.
- Personalizing school environments so that students learn in the context of close relationships with teachers and peers.
- And enhancing career and technical education options, including apprenticeships and the integration of academic and technical work skills into instruction, so that young people can leave high school prepared to work or to go on to college.
In a recent whitepaper, we suggest that many of these practices might actually work better in rural schools because they mobilize rural strengths. Some of these assets include strong school-community relationships, robust parent involvement, and intergenerational relationships among community members. Rural schools and districts also have some advantages that can support dropout prevention, including less bureaucracy and organizational complexity, lower student-teacher ratios and a capacity to respond creatively to challenges by virtue of necessity.
Here’s how rural advantages might work to support dropout prevention:
School-community collaboration. Many rural schools are the epicenter of their communities, serving as an employment hub for local residents, a gathering place for civic activities, and of course, a place to educate students. Because of the school’s central role, they are often open well before and after school hours, offering space for credit recovery (making up classes), tutoring and adult education. This provides an ideal setting to ensure that at-risk students’ needs are supported.
Family engagement. Various community factors encourage family engagement in rural schools (for example, rural families often attended the same school, they may work/volunteer at the school, or they have friends or neighbors who work there). Rural schools can use these strong school-family and school-community connections to engage families of students who are likely to drop out of school, involving them in helping their children academically.
Adult mentors/advocates. One of the most consistent findings regarding “what works” in dropout prevention is the importance of a positive adult role model in a child’s life. These adult role models can serve as mentors, tutors or advocates for students. Intergenerational relationships are common in rural places. Because students lack anonymity in closely-knit communities, it’s more difficult for them to “fall through the cracks.”
Active learning. The term “active learning” refers to teaching and learning strategies that involve students in the learning process, as opposed to the traditional “stand and deliver” model of classroom teaching. Rural schools are in ideal locales for active, place-based learning, such as environmental and outdoor education, local history projects or community service efforts.
Career, technical and accelerated education. Rural businesses, civic organizations and postsecondary institutions often maintain close relationships with community schools. School-community partnerships can facilitate cooperative relationships with businesses and institutions of higher education to support internships, apprenticeships and accelerated learning (such early college high school or dual credit programs).
The map shows the relative percentage of population aged 25 and up in each county that lacks a high school diploma. Darker counties have a higher percentage of this population that has not completed high school. Counties are grouped by quartiles. Click the map to get an interactive version.