Stats Show Idaho’s Rural Schools Succeeding, Facing Big Challenges, Too

Thursday, February 12 2009

Feb. 12, 2009

Written by Bill Loftus

MOSCOW – Students in Idaho’s rural schools hold their own when compared with their fellow students in towns and cities, according to a report released Thursday by the University of Idaho and Idaho Rural Partnership.

The statistics gathered by university researchers showed rural schools tended to have lower enrollments and were more likely to be losing students, but they also spent more per student and tended to have smaller class sizes. The report focused on the state’s most rural school districts, those where the biggest town had fewer than 2,500 residents.

Rural school districts were also more likely to meet federal and state targets tied to the No Child Left Behind Act.  Idaho’s rural K-12 students, who make up a third of the state’s total, also scored nearly the same on both state and federal standardized tests.

Rural students, however, faced challenges, too. They were more likely to come from low-income families and were just as likely to be from families where English is a second language.

Shelby Kerns, Idaho Rural Partnership executive director at Boise, said the report was intended to give Idaho legislators and the public an overview of the success and challenges rural school districts, their students and communities face.

“It’s important that they understand the difference and the facts about what’s really going on in rural districts,” she said.

“Our mission is to educate policy makers. There isn’t an agenda -- we simply want everyone to understand the status and the facts,” Kerns said. “There are different strengths and challenges, and we can’t treat everyone the same.”

“Our rural school districts can’t be lumped into any broad generalization,” Kerns said. “Some are doing great and some struggle a little more.  Rural students are doing well overall, but there are other challenges we need to address.”

“Rural students tend to be more likely to come from low-income families,” Kerns said. “Those factors create some definite challenges for rural schools because those districts also tend to face greater funding challenges.”

There also are some areas where rural education is doing great, Kerns said, and even outperforming schools in cities and towns.

The report, “Idaho at a Glance: Rural Education 2009,” assembled data from a variety of sources, said Christy Dearien, the University of Idaho’s principal researcher on the project at Moscow.

Among the most notable statistics, she said, included the overall decline in rural school enrollment. Nearly two-thirds of rural schools have lost 10 percent or more of their students over the last 10 years.

“The report confirms what we thought about Idaho’s hard working, rural teachers, school board members, and superintendents,” said Priscilla Salant, the University of Idaho’s coordinator for outreach and engagement and an author on the report.  “They’re holding their own against the odds.  The question is what’s going to happen when their budgets become even tighter than they are now.”

In addition to the Idaho Rural Partnership and the University of Idaho, the Idaho National Laboratory also provided support for the project. More information is available online at

# # # 

About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 150 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. For information, visit

Contacts: Shelby Kerns, Idaho Rural Partnership executive director, (208) 272-0596,;
Christy Dearien, University of Idaho Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology Department research associate, (208) 885-4017,;
Bill Loftus, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences science writer, (208) 885-7694,

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit