The High-Performing School Deserts of Rural America

Will Flanders:

Among education reform advocates, improving urban education is often the focus. That’s no surprise since tens of thousands of kids in cities suffer from decades of educational failure and limited opportunity. But often overlooked are the challenges and problems plaguing rural education. Sometimes opportunities for success are just as limited, or even more so, than for students in cities. 

One example of this is found in Mattoon, Wisconsin, a village of just 400 residents. When the elementary school closed in 2016, most students from the North Central Wisconsin village found themselves riding the bus 45 minutes to Antigo. The distant, sprawling Unified School District of Antigo has five low-performing schools but only one high-performing elementary school. For the kids in Mattoon, attending a high-performing school isn’t really an option.  

The problem of high-performing school deserts is highlighted in in a new studyfrom the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL). The study identifies ZIP codes and regions in the state of Wisconsin without access to high-performing schools. High-performing school deserts are defined as locations that have no high-performing schools within ten miles, based on WILL’s value-added analysis of state test data. 

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