Riding to School in Slow Motion: West Virginia Long Bus Rides Negatively Impact Students, Schools

Last Updated: March 15, 2007

Riding to School In Slow Motion
CONTACTS: Lorna Jimerson, Ed.D (author), (802) 425-2497
Marty Strange, Policy Director, (802) 728-4383

Arlington, VA--Students who attend consolidated rural high schools face longer bus rides and are less likely to participate in extra-curricular activities because of the challenge of transportation.

This is one finding in a new study from the Rural School and Community Trust, Slow Motion: Traveling by School Bus in Consolidated Districts in West Virginia. Survey results show that high school students who ride the bus and attend consolidated high schools lose an average of 49 minutes each day, compared to students who have other forms of transportation in those same districts.

Though the report focuses specifically on consolidation outcomes in West Virginia, the lessons learned are a warning to any state that has pursued or is considering pursuing consolidation as an education policy.

The report summarizes responses to an extensive survey of high school students in four West Virginia counties, two that have consolidated high schools and two that have retained community high schools. The investigators found that bus rides in districts with consolidated high schools are 43% longer than in districts that have not consolidated their schools. Also, even though the state has recommendations (that are not enforced) for maximum one-way bus rides to not exceed 60 minutes for high school students, over 31% of students in consolidated districts involved in the study had bus rides that were 60 minutes or longer.

These long bus rides are negatively impacting students' participation in extra-curricular activities-long associated with engagement in schooling, lower dropout rates, and higher grade point averages. The survey found that long commutes to school mean students participate in fewer extra-curricular activities, and many students participate in none at all. For these students, travel logistics present insurmountable challenges.

Students with alternative forms of transportation in consolidated districts also had longer commutes than their counterparts in the non-consolidated districts, but they were more likely than bus riders in their own districts to engage in extra-curricular activities. Dr. Jimerson believes that this finding highlights a potential equity issue. "Having access to a car apparently is a prerequisite for actively participating in extra-curricular activities for many students who live far from school, which unfairly disadvantages poorer students," she said.

The study concludes that long bus rides have negative consequences for students and should be avoided whenever possible in states with consolidation policies. The report's final section suggests state policy actions that would help mitigate some of the detrimental impact on students, such as enforcing bus length recommendations and providing after-school buses for all districts.

The best way to avoid these negative consequences? "Since long bus rides are the direct byproducts of state consolidation policies, the negative impact for students should be weighed against any perceived benefits," said Jimerson. Click here to view the report online.

The Rural School and Community Trust is the leading national organization addressing the crucial relationship between good schools and thriving rural communities by involving young people in learning linked to their communities, improving the quality of rural teaching and school leadership, and advocating for appropriate state policies that address the needs of rural schools. Contact the Rural Trust at 202-822-3919 for more information.

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