In 2003–04, a larger percentage of rural students attended small or very small public schools than students in other locales.
Across the United States in the 2003–04 school year, 31.2 million students were enrolled in 65,800 public elementary schools, 15.8 million students were enrolled in 22,800 public secondary schools, and 1.3 million students were enrolled in 5,400 public combined schools (data not shown). In rural areas, 6.4 million students were enrolled in 18,700 public elementary schools, 3.4 million students in 8,800 public secondary schools, and 0.5 million students in 2,000 public combined-level schools (tables 1.2a and A-1.2). At both the elementary and secondary level, the number of students attending rural public schools (6.4 million and 3.4 million, respectively) was larger than the number attending public schools in towns (3.9 million and 2.1 million), but smaller than the numbers attending public schools in suburbs (11.2 million and 5.6 million) and in cities (9.7 million and 4.5 million).
In 2003–04, about two-thirds of public schools in rural areas enrolled less than 400 students, and less than one-half of a percent enrolled 2,000 or more students (table 1.2b). In contrast, in cities and suburbs, roughly two-thirds of public schools enrolled more than 400 students and 3 percent of public schools enrolled 2,000 or more students. In towns, about half of public schools enrolled more than 400 students.
Generally, a larger percentage of rural students than students in other locales were enrolled in very small public schools. At the elementary level, the percentage of students in rural areas attending public schools with an enrollment below 200 (10.4 percent) was about three times as large as the percentage in towns (3.4 percent), about 7 times as large as the percentages in cities (1.5 percent), and about 10 times as large as the percentage in suburbs (1.0 percent).
At the secondary level, similar differences were found, with the percentage of students in rural areas attending public schools with enrollments of less than 200 (9 percent) being more than three times larger than the percentages in cities, suburbs, and towns (ranging from 1 to 2 percent). Conversely, the percentage of students in rural areas attending public schools with enrollments of 2,000 or more (7 percent) was less than in cities (36 percent) and suburbs (32 percent), though greater than in towns (3 percent).
Larger numbers of public combined schools (schools having a grade below 7th grade and a grade above 8th grade) and public combined school students were found in rural areas (2,000 schools and 494,000 students) than in each of the other locales (800–1,500 schools and 112,000–441,000 students). While few differences were seen across locales in the distribution of combined school students across school sizes, a smaller percentage of public combined school students in rural areas attended schools with 1,200 or more students than in cities, suburbs, and towns (9 percent vs. 33, 29, and 10 percent, respectively).