POOR STUDENTS IN RURAL MASSACHUSETTS OUTPERFORM THEIR URBAN COUNTERPARTS AND ARE IMPROVING MORE RAPIDLY
New study finds that all students are scoring higher, but low-income rural students
have improved more rapidly than low-income urban students.
BOSTON, MA – The performance gap between low- and higher- income students is roughly the same in rural and urban areas of Massachusetts, but poor students in rural areas perform better than their urban counterparts and have also improved more rapidly over the last decade, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.
Massachusetts outperforms the rest of the country among both low- and higher-income students, but poor students in the Commonwealth still fall well behind their higher-income peers. Ten years ago, the performance gap was larger in rural areas than in urban areas. But by 2011, low-income rural students had improved more rapidly than urban students and partially closed the gap.
“Over the last decade, MCAS scores for students in all categories – rich and poor, rural and urban – have improved. However, the income-based achievement gap has grown slightly for urban students and has narrowed among rural students,” said Salem State University Associate Professor of Economics Ken Ardon, author of Urban and Rural Poverty and Student Achievement in Massachusetts.
Low-income students in rural areas perform better than low-income urban students as measured by both MCAS scores and graduation rates. The difference in performance between low-income students in rural
and urban areas may be attributable to the urban students being poorer and less likely to speak English.
Overall, Massachusetts ranks eighth among the states in household income. About 600,000 of the commonwealth’s residents, approximately 10 percent of the overall population, live below the poverty line. About one in three students statewide qualify for free or reduced price lunches, although eligibility by district ranges from 0.1 percent to over 90 percent.
Compared to the country as a whole, poverty in Massachusetts is more concentrated in urban areas. Only one state has a lower percentage of rural students who qualify for free and reduced price lunch, but the percentage of the commonwealth’s urban students who qualify is higher than in 35 states. The highest
poverty rates are in Suffolk and Hampden Counties, home to Boston and Springfield, where about one quarter of school-aged children are below the poverty line.
There are also pockets of rural poverty in Massachusetts. More than half the students qualify for free or reduced price lunches in the Greenfield, North Adams, Gill-Montague and Ware school districts.