updated 7/25/2007 9:39:09 PM ET 2007-07-26T01:39:09

Rural students perform better in science than their urban counterparts, and rural teachers are generally happy with their schools, a federal study says.

While many education reports examine urban issues, this Education Department study provides a snapshot of what's happening in rural schools. In all, about a third of U.S. public schools are located in rural areas. Generally, areas with fewer than 500 people per square mile are considered rural by the Census Bureau.

When it comes to achievement, the report released Wednesday finds science is a strong subject for rural students.

That could be because kids get their education in real-world settings as well as classrooms, says Marty Strange, policy director of the Rural School and Community Trust, an advocacy group. "Rural life is a little closer to nature," he said.

The report also found that, at all grade levels, rural students did better on national science tests than children in cities and performed about the same as suburban students. In math, rural kids did better than urban students at every grade level.

In reading, rural fourth- and eighth-graders have better skills than their urban peers. In high school, rural kids read about as well as kids in cities.

Among teachers, rural educators were more likely to report being satisfied with teaching conditions in their schools, according to the report. However, salaries are lower in rural schools than elsewhere, the report found.

Rural schools tend to be smaller and have lower student-teacher ratios than other schools, which might explain why teachers say conditions are good there, said Strange.

"Everybody knows everybody," he said. "Human relations are just better in smaller schools."

Rural schools report having trouble filling teacher vacancies in foreign languages and classes for students with limited English skills.

As for parents in rural communities, they were more likely than urban or suburban parents to report attending an event at their children's school during the year.

Val Plisko, associate commissioner at the Education Department's research arm, said that might have to do with the role schools play in rural areas. "Often times the school is the community. There are a lot of activities happening around the school," she said.

Suburban parents were somewhat more likely to volunteer or serve on a committee at the school.

Parental involvement is seen as an important factor in student achievement.

Not all rural schools are alike. The report found, for example, students were more likely to attend high-poverty schools in remote areas, compared to rural schools that are closer to urban communities.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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