Rural Schools, A Primer

The Rural School in its Community | Small-School Statistics | Rural Schools Public Policy | Resources | Learn More

Rural School

Photo by Cindy Seigle and used here under Creative Commons license. Click here to see more of Cindy's work.

Rural schools have come a long way from the one-room school houses of the past and are a shining example to many over-crowded large schools in metro communities. However, as many large, metro schools try to downsize, many small rural schools are being underfunded into nonexistence. This page will offer some strategies, resources, and talking points to help make a case for the small, rural school.

Public policy that pressures small schools into consolidation through underfunding and incentives is counter-productive. As schools get larger, educational results generally worsen. The academic, social and communal advantages of smaller schools are lost. It makes little sense for the best interest of communities and society to adopt public policy that worsens the achievement of outcomes of our schools and students.

What Role Does a Small School Play in a Community?

  • Rural schools are a large employer.
  • Rural schools offer social activities for residents.
  • Rural schools increase the value of the property tax base.
  • Rural schools contribute to the local economy.

Small-School Statistics

Consolidation of rural schools is a tough subject. While we are opposed to forced consolidation at the state level, we have to consider the educational needs of the children of the districts at the local level. If education is suffering in the current system, consolidation is a good option.

See also, Jack and the Giant School

  • Small schools have higher graduation rates and, on a per graduate basis, they cost about the same or less than large schools.
  • Small school students equal or outperform large school students.
  • Large schools function like bureaucracies, small schools more like communities.
  • Studies have found that small schools parents are more likely to be involved in their child's education and to volunteer at the school.
  • Studies have found that participation in extracurricular activities improves attendance and academic performance.
  • Research has consistently shown that poverty exercises a substantial negative effect on student achievement. The impact of poverty is significantly reduced when kids attend small schools. In fact, the larger the school, the more likely poor students are to fail; the smaller the school, the more likely they are to succeed.
  • School consolidation does lead to broader curricula and more electives; however this does not resolve the problems school consolidation is expected to address.
  • Transportation issues tend to be one of the more severe costs to education and performance of students. Among research findings, greater distances to the school tend to decrease student participation in extracurricular activity and higher placement or advanced classes, decrease overall student health and wellness, increase transportation costs to the district, and decrease.

Rural Schools and Public Policy

Many current state policies underfund schools that are close enough to be consolidated. This is not done to other essential services. Schools play a vital role in the vitality of a community. While it is no one's intention to build a school for one person, where there are students who need education, they should have it - equal and adequate to the rest of the state.

Good state educational financing should recognize cost differences that reflect local circumstances and needs, promote resource stability and predictability, and utilize an aid distribution formula that is based on actual cost of "doing business" and local capacity to pay.

  • State education policy should support schools that are community-based and small in scale, and that achieve local, as well as state goals and standards of quality education.
  • State educational financing should recognize cost differences that reflect local circumstances and needs ("fund them as you find them"), promote resource stability and predictability, and utilize an aid distribution formula that is based on the actual cost of "doing business" and local capacity to pay.
  • Schools are a crucial part of any rural community and its development, and public policy should recognize the importance and need for schools in rural communities.

Resources and Publications

Center for the Study of Small/Rural Schools
The center aids small and rural schools through workshops, surveys, needs assessments, technical assistance and various other services to provide assistance in:

  • building and maintaining necessary knowledge bases
  • applying  research in the areas of school improvement and reform
  • restructuring
  • staff development
  • administration
  • teaching

Rural School and Community Trust – School Consolidation Tool Kit
The documents in this Consolidation Toolkit, prepared by the policy staff of the Rural School and Community Trust, can help you educate your fellow citizens and the policymakers who have the final say in consolidation decisions.

The Small Schools Workshop
A group of educators, organizers, and researchers collaborating with teachers, principals, and parents, in the creation and support of small, innovative public schools.

What Does a School Mean to a Community? Assessing the Social and Economic Benefits of Schools to Rural Villages in New York.
Thomas A. Lyson identifies community level characteristics associated with the presence or absence of a school.

Rural School Consolidation Report (Opens PDF)
This paper, developed by the National Rural Education Association’s Consolidation Task Force, provides a review of the literature on rural school consolidation, defines consolidation, addresses current research and issues related to consolidation with respect to school size, economies of scale, and student achievement, and concludes with proposed recommendations for the National Rural Education Association’s Executive Board.

A Phenomenological Study of Rural School Consolidation (Opens PDF)
This paper looks at how school consolidation between 2003 and 2006 affected students and educators in four Arkansas high schools. Researchers found, for the four schools involved, that students adapted better than teachers to the consolidation and nearly all students and teachers reported some benefits from the consolidation, though the moving teachers and students experienced special challenges.

Four Day School Week as a Cost Saving Measure for Small Schools

Transportation Issues

Long School Bus Rides (Opens PDF)
This takes a look at the effects of a long bus ride on children in West Virginia.

The Rural School Bus Ride in Five States: A report to the Rural School and Community Trust (Opens PDF)
A comparison of urban/suburban and rural transportation data.

Long Rides, Tough Hides: Enduring Long School Bus Rides (Opens PDF)
This paper looks at the effects of long bus rides and the hardships that come with them.

Learn More

For more information, contact Kim Preston at or call 402-687-2100.