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School consolidation and the search for economies of scale are threatening to render the neighborhood school obsolete. Nevertheless, students and their families do live in neighborhoods. Consequently, education researchers have asked if there are neighborhood-based advantages and disadvantages which influence student achievement. Research has yielded conflicting results. This may be due to failure to properly define and measure neighborhood, acknowledging variation in its nature from place to place. We use ethnographic material to help operationalize the concept neighborhood for use in quantitative research on two very poor, rural counties in West Virginia. We then do a contextual analysis to gauge neighborhood effects among kindergarten children in twelve randomly selected elementary schools. Poor, rural West Virginia neighborhoods turn out not to be the uniformly socially disorganized, culturally pernicious contexts which gave rise to the dubious concept culture of poverty. Instead, they can be sources of safety and stability, where extended families endure, like-minded neighbors are socially accessible and supportive, and early school achievement is enhanced.


This is an electronic version of an article published in Bickel, R., Smith, C., & Eagle, T. (2002). Poor, rural neighborhoods and early school achievement. Journal of Poverty, 6(3), 89-108. JOURNAL of POVERTY is available online at: . Copyright © 2002 Journal of Poverty.