Paving the Rural Road to High School Success
By Gov. Wise
On September 23, the Federal Communications Commission approved an overhaul of the $2.25 billion E-Rate program—which offers discounted telephone and internet services for eligible schools and public libraries—to give schools more options for faster internet connection and service, allow for community internet service, and begin pilot programs for mobile learning devices, like digital textbooks. According to the New York Times, the program mostly serves schools in poor and rural communities.
This is an important step in ensuring that all students have equitable learning opportunities, regardless of where they live. More than half of all school districts and one third of all public schools are located in rural areas. Despite progress in overall rural educational attainment, too many rural high schools continue to have dropout rates that are too high and college enrollment rates that are too low. Currently, one in four rural students fails to graduate from high school, and the rate is even lower for minority youth. In addition, only 17 percent of rural adults age twenty-five and older have a college degree—half the percentage of urban adults. With more than 20 percent of the nation’s public school students enrolled in rural schools, this is not just a “local” issue; it’s a national crises.
Rural schools have the same challenges as other high schools around the country: changing student demographics; influx of English language learners; continued gaps in academic achievement defined by race/ethnicity and income status; and providing high-quality teachers and leaders. However, these difficulties are compounded in rural schools because of distance and isolation, as well as declining financial resources, shrinking employment opportunities, and even greater challenges to recruit high-quality educators.
Current Challenges and Opportunities in Preparing Rural High School Students for Success in College and Careers, a major Alliance report issued in February 2010, describes the tight-knit nature of rural communities and how it can result in the development of promising practices in meeting the challenges of preparing students for success in the twenty-first century.
Innovative technologies and digital learning offer promising solutions to expand career opportunities for rural students and improve local rural economies. The Online Learning Imperative: A Solution to Three Looming Crises in Education, another recent Alliance paper documents how online learning is one possible solution to three major looming educational crises.
First, demands for better-trained workers with enhanced skills are rapidly increasing around the globe at a time when American college graduation rates continue to fall behind much of the rest of the world. Online learning can help in the delivery of high-quality content to locations and individuals needing this vital instruction. Second, declining federal, state, and local revenues mean high schools will be forced to change the way they deliver education to their students. Innovative applications of digital learning offer round-the-clock, cost-effective delivery of content knowledge to many educational settings. And lastly, the mounting teacher shortage will require innovative thinking to compensate for expected losses as large numbers of experienced teachers retire. New and less-experienced teachers will increasingly work in “blended” or “hybrid” environments in which online educational content complements the in-the-classroom teacher.
These challenges lead to only one conclusion: traditional practices used to educate students cannot be sustained under these growing burdens. The promise of online learning to ensure that all students, regardless of background, are prepared for college and careers has already been realized in some rural schools. For example, Humboldt High School in Iowa, which has historically struggled with limits in funding and availability of highly qualified teachers, uses online learning to offer its students a broader range of course work. Working in partnership with the University of Iowa and other state colleges, Humboldt High can offer a virtual environment for experts to teach students college-level classes such as Advanced Placement history and Calculus II.
Online learning has the potential to bring high-quality content to every classroom. With the right resources in place, more schools will be able to replicate the success of Humboldt High School. Ensuring that all schools and students are equipped with reliable, super-fast internet access is one of the first steps in paving the rural road to high school success.