Indexing and Mapping Rural School Districts

By R.
Top ten percent most rural school districts (Alaska not shown)
Map 1. Top ten percent most rural school districts when ranked using the U.S. Relative Rurality Index.
Top ten percent most rural school districts (Alaska not shown)
Map 2. Top ten percent most rural school districts when ranked using the U.S. Relative Rurality Index (Alaska not shown).

Using U.S. Census Bureau data and geographies, I've computed a Relative Rurality Index for almost 11,000 U.S. school districts. The index is calculated based on the distance between centroids of each district and the nearest urban cluster with a population of fifty thousand or greater, the population density of the county in which the district is located, and the population decline of the same county (2010-2018), each scaled to the national extrema and composited with more weight given to remoteness (scaled distance from nearest urban area) and sparseness (inverse of scaled population density). The aim here is to develop a basis for intranational comparisons within and across studies as well as for site selection and recruitment. Initial results seem promising.

Top ten percent most rural Nebraska school districts
Map 3. Top ten percent most rural Nebraska school districts when ranked using the U.S. Relative Rurality Index.

The index was compiled using custom Python scripts relying heavily on the bindings for OSGEO's OGR library. The maps, previews of which appear above, are generated using my custom vector rendering package vfr. The projection is the U.S. National Atlas Equal Area projection (EPSG:2163).

The key products are a detailed index file and a summary file. The detailed index file contains one row for each school district, its rurality index, the component indices, and additional useful data as in the excerpt below (taken from around the median). The summary file contains national and state-level extrema and statistics. Optionally, a shapefile is also generated, identical to the U.S. Census Bureau UNSD product but augmented with the Rurality Index and its component indices.

     1  sdgeoid  ridx    distidx  popeidx  popdidx  name                                                                  dist      popchgpct  popd
...
  5439  3616170  0.6435  0.0295   0.9030   0.9979   AuSable Valley Central School District                                23.5200   -0.0174    77.7600
  5440  2919080  0.6435  0.0300   0.9011   0.9994   Osage County R-II School District                                     23.9100   -0.0118    22.6100
  5441  2803570  0.6435  0.0297   0.9014   0.9995   Perry County Schools                                                  23.6700   -0.0260    18.4300
  5442  2709720  0.6435  0.0298   0.9010   0.9996   Crookston Public School District                                      23.7400   -0.0022    16.0000
  5443  2634710  0.6435  0.0264   0.9057   0.9982   Vassar Public Schools                                                 21.0800   -0.0577    65.2800
  5444  2609150  0.6435  0.0220   0.9148   0.9936   Chesaning Union Schools                                               17.5500   -0.0468    238.3600
  5445  2603870  0.6435  0.0317   0.9021   0.9967   Bangor Public Schools                                                 25.2100   -0.0106    124.1300
  5446  2313980  0.6435  0.0314   0.9011   0.9980   Wiscasset Public Schools                                              25.0200   -0.0033    75.3300
  5447  1906060  0.6435  0.0275   0.9047   0.9982   Camanche Community School District                                    21.8900   -0.0529    66.9400
  5448  1810620  0.6435  0.0295   0.9022   0.9989   Southeast Fountain School Corporation                                 23.5100   -0.0516    41.3300
...
Listing 1. Sample data from detailed rurality index file.