Tractors and Taxis: The Rural/Urban Difference Myth

The more I read RiShawn Biddle ? he of Dropout Nation -- the more I like him (even though I don't know anything about him). ?He wrote a wonderful short essay last week on Bruce Baker of Rutgers, whom he called the ?poor man's Diane Ravitch? (and who, he says, "has devoted so much of his career attempting to prove that spending more money on education? leads to better results.?) ?But today he's taking on a favorite subject of mine, the ?the myth of differences between urban and rural schools.?

Having grown up in rural America (Oregon), lived and worked in urban America (Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C.) for several decades, and having now settled down in upstate ?high needs rural? New York (this, according to the official New York State Education Department's designation), I have a strong opinion on the subject of rural and urban educational needs.? And that opinion is, Right on RiShawn!

[T]he idea that the nation's education crisis is only limited to the nation's big cities is false, as are arguments that schools serving suburban students are somehow immune from the same problems of abysmal curricula, laggard instruction and cultures of mediocrity in which only some kids are considered capable of learning. The fact that one out of every four fourth-graders in a suburban school ? and that young male fourth-graders (including half of all those on free- or-reduced lunch plans and one-fifth of those who are not) ? are performing at levels of functional illiteracy all but proves lie to that assumption. So is the fact that a fifth of all persistently failing high schools are located in suburbia.

This is the kind of straight talk that many of our differentiated instruction reformers need to hear: ?Rich and poor need the same knowledge.? As a country, we once excelled in this when we believed that ?one size fits all? ? every child should read Shakespeare, know the periodic table, and? be able to name the capitols of the 50 states.

Biddle does not make the point in the same way, but he's close:

While big-city districts are home to half of the nation's dropout factories ? high schools with graduation rates of 60 percent or lower as defined by Johns Hopkins researcher Robert Balfanz ?? one out of every five persistently failing high schools are located in the nation's rural communities. The graduation rates for poor and minority students are also the same: Just 54 percent of black ninth-graders attending rural high schools graduated during the 2005-2006 school year, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education, just 8 points higher than the graduation rates for their counterparts in big-city schools.

It doesn't matter whether you sleep in a tent under the stars or a in a tenement under a blanket of smog -- knowledge counts.? And, Yes, most of that knowledge, from Homer to Balzac, Augustine to Mailer, has little to do with whether you live on a farm? or in a housing project.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

More By Author

Related Articles