A Snapshot:

Rural / Suburban / Urban

An estimated 50.7 million students are enrolled in America’s public schools, most in cities and suburbs. Not surprisingly, that’s where the ideas and energy around reform are centered.

But, if we subscribe to the notion of providing quality education for all students, doesn’t that require giving attention to all geographies?

Although we are doing better at measuring the growth and proficiency of our K-12 students, there isn’t an abundance of comparative data for rural, suburban and urban education. We do, however, know that the struggle to advance more equitable educational opportunity happens in places across all of these geographies as evidenced by persistent achievement gaps. These gaps exist among student populations in big cities, in the smallest of districts in towns and isolated farming communities and in our suburbs, where disparities may be obfuscated by the relative success of most students.

How and how well students learn, no matter where they live and go to school, is driven by a complexity of challenges including external forces as well as structural constraints. The small sampling of data below highlights some of these barriers. They also point to some of the outcomes like reading levels, high school graduation rates and who’s going to college. Our intent is to create context for the three student views and feature stories that follow.

Greater than one half of school districts + a third of public schools in the U.S. are in rural areas. 1 in 5 students attend school in rural areas




2015–16 OVERALL students in high-poverty schools

Chart showing 2015_16-OVERALL-students-in-highpoverty-schools

2015-2016 OVERALL Students in low-poverty schools

chart showing 2015-2016-OVERALL-Students-in-low-poverty-schools

“We’re used to the rural poverty, we’re used to the urban poverty, but we’re not used to it creeping into other parts of our state. This is a big deal.”
Howard Fleeter, consultant, Ohio Education Policy Institute


42% of people ages 18 to 24 are enrolled in higher education.
Suburban students are most likely to attend college.

Chart showing college enrollment by region using stacked chairs to illustrate difference


Shifting Demographics

1 in 5 rural residents identifies as Latino.

76% of the growth in the foreign-born population between 2000 and 2013 in the largest metro areas occurred in the suburbs.

In 53 metro areas, the suburbs accounted for more than half of immigrant growth, including nine metros in which all of the growth occurred in the suburbs: Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Jackson, Los Angeles, Ogden, Rochester and Salt Lake City.

English Language Learners

Chart showing English Language Learner population enrollment in U.S.


Elementary School Reading Levels


Digital Equity

“This issue of digital equity is a crucial one for rural students. Without ubiquitous access to broadband services, they can’t participate in educational opportunities from home, including class discussions, research and interactions with classmates. They also lose access to student portals, parent portals and more that contain vital daily information.”

chart showing digital equity in U.S. schools

High School Graduation Rates

Rural students graduate from high school at a higher rate than urban students, however…

Sources: NCES Condition of Education 2018, National Center for Education Statistics; Elizabeth Kneebone, Brookings Institution, testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee, Subcommittee on Human Resources, February 2017; National School Board Association; United States Census Bureau; EducationSuperhighway.org

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