Arizona is the 6th largest state in the country, covering 113,990 square miles of Sonoran Desert, red rocks, and mountains. The state is home to 27 federally recognized Native American tribes, including the Navajo, Havasupai, Hopi, and Zuni; tribal lands make up nearly one-quarter of the state.[1] Over half of its 223 school districts are classified as rural based on their distance from urban centers and levels of student enrollment.[2] Arizona’s rural schools educate 35% of the state’s students--significantly higher than the national average--and also serve a disproportionate percentage of minority students, including Hispanic and Native American populations, and a large number of English Language Learners.[3]

While the status of rural education in Arizona has been an area of concern for Department of Education officials, a new sense of urgency has recently arisen around the issue. The recent publication of the biennial report Why Rural Matters 2015-2016 ranked Arizona’s rural schools as the second highest-need state in the nation across several indicators, including spending per pupil, graduation rate, and college readiness participation. The report found that Arizona’s spending on instruction per pupil is nearly $1,500 less than the national average.[1] As the report states, “Arizona is among the nation’s 10 lowest for its rural graduation rate, rural graduation rate among non-White students, and rural ACT/SAT participation.” Arizona also has the nation’s 5th highest student-mobility rate for rural areas.


While many of the challenges faced by rural schools in Arizona are similar to those faced by rural schools elsewhere in the country, Arizona offers a unique opportunity to examine the ways in which educational entities in the state are working to address the geophysical isolation of reservation communities, the long track record of low student achievement in Bureau of Indian Education schools, and the historical role that educational institutions in the state have played in the assimilation and underservice of native communities. Another development that is renewing the focus, not only on rural education in the state, but on supporting educational growth in Native American populations specifically are a series of new federal guidelines. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, local educational agencies (LEAs) are required to consult with officials or approved organization representing tribes located in the area served by the school or district. Improving academic achievement among its Native American students is one of the ESSA focus areas put forth by the Arizona Department of Education; its strategies call for “collaborative efforts to design and implement programs supported by the Every Student Succeeds Act” to achieve this goal.[2]


[1] Rural School and Community Trust, Why Rural Matters 2015-2016. 2017. p. 107.

[2]  Arizona Department of Education, Arizona Tribal Consultation Guide. May 2017. Retrieved 11.18.2017 from

[1] Arizona Department of Education, Arizona Tribal Consultation Guide. May 2017. Retrieved 11.18.2017 from

[2] Arizona Rural Schools Association, Retrieved 11.18.2017.

[3] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.