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Status of Education in Rural America
NCES 2007-040
June 2007

3.12. Use of professional support staff and paraprofessionals


In public schools, the average number of students per school counselor, social worker, school psychologist, and special education instructional aide was lower in rural areas in 2003–04 than in cities at both the elementary and secondary levels.

Public schools employ a wide range of staff in order to provide and support their students' education. In addition to classroom teachers, these support staff include licensed or certified professionals (such as school counselors and nurses) and also instructional and non-instructional aides. The data discussed in this indicator pertain to these support staff in regular public schools, and do not distinguish between the full-time and part-time status of the staff.

During the 2003–04 school year, special education instructional aides were the most commonly found public school support staff in rural areas (and in all other locales), with both elementary and secondary rural public schools averaging almost 3 special education instructional aides per school (table 3.12). However, the average number of special education instructional aides per public school in rural areas was lower than the average in suburbs and cities at the elementary level (4.2 and 3.7 respectively) and lower than the average in towns, suburbs, and cities at the secondary level (4.0, 5.5, and 6.2, respectively).

Rural public elementary schools averaged about 1 school counselor, nurse, speech therapist, and regular Title I1 instructional aide per school. City, suburban, and town public elementary schools also averaged about 1 school counselor and nurse per school. However, the average number of speech therapists per school was lower among rural elementary schools than among city and suburban elementary schools (1.2 and 1.3, respectively).

Rural public secondary schools averaged about 1.6 school counselors and 1 nurse per school. City, suburban, and town public schools also averaged about 1 nurse per school, while secondary schools in cities, suburbs and towns had a higher number of school counselors per school (3.9, 3.8, and 2.1, respectively) than rural secondary schools.

To better account for enrollment differences between public schools in various locales, table 3.12 also shows the average number of students per support staff member (among schools that have such staff). This statistic is designed to be a proxy indicator for the access public school students have to these services in their schools. Students in schools with lower numbers of students per support staff member have a greater potential for access to these support services.

In public elementary schools, the average numbers of students per school counselor, social worker, or psychologist in rural areas (317, 400, and 378, respectively) were lower than in cities (407, 467, and 548) and suburban areas (400, 483, and 517), but not measurably different from the averages in towns (figure 3.12a).

The average number of students per special education instructional aide in rural public elementary schools (104) was lower than in city public elementary schools (124), but not measurably different from suburban or town public elementary schools. A similar pattern was detected in the average number of elementary students per regular Title I instructional aide, where the average in rural areas (136) was lower than in cities (170), but not measurably different from suburban or town elementary schools. No differences across locales were detected in the average number of elementary students per English as a Second Language/bilingual instructional aide.

In public secondary schools, the average numbers of students per school counselor, social worker, or psychologist were lower in rural areas (298, 508, and 524, respectively) than in cities (334, 987, and 1,255), suburbs (323, 941, and 1,075), or towns (329, 664, and 670) (figure 3.12b).

The average number of students per special education instructional aide in rural public secondary schools (153) was lower than in suburban or city public secondary schools (198 and 187, respectively), but not measurably different from public secondary schools in towns. This same pattern was detected in the average number of secondary students per ESL/bilingual instructional aide, where the average in rural areas (586) was lower than in suburbs (854) or cities (811), but not measurably different from towns. The average number of students per regular Title I instructional aide in secondary schools was also lower in rural areas (189) than in suburban areas (486), but no measurable differences were detected between the average in rural areas and the averages in cities and towns.

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1 Title I is designed to support state and local school reform efforts tied to challenging state academic standards in order to reinforce and amplify efforts to improve teaching and learning for students farthest from meeting state standards. Individual public schools with poverty rates at or above 40 percent may use Title I funds, along with other federal, state, and local funds, to operate a "schoolwide program" to upgrade the instructional program for the whole school. Schools with poverty rates below 40 percent, or those choosing not to operate a schoolwide program, offer a "targeted assistance program" in which the school identifies students who are failing, or most at risk of failing, to meet the state's challenging performance standards, then designs, in consultation with parents, staff, and district staff, an instructional program to meet the needs of those students.

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