At New Salem-Altmont High School, Secretary Duncan and Representative Earl Pomeroy watched as students attended an anatomy class where a lead instructor teaches students in five schools at once through satellite television. It is one way the school is using technology to overcome distance and increase access to quality instruction. The video technology empowers the different classrooms to see and hear one another, and students can interact with the teacher and one another.
The program is available to even more communities, preparing students for college and careers in places where certain courses may not be available otherwise, given the struggle to find science teachers in North Dakota as it is nationwide. This distance learning classroom is one of many innovative approaches rural schools are using to boost learning and accelerate achievement.
Secretary Duncan recognizes that small towns and rural schools face unique challenges and unique opportunities. They may have difficulty recruiting and retaining great teachers and offering a diverse array of courses, but the close-knit nature of their communities enables them to adopt changes quicker, get speedy approval to expand or replicate successful programs, and deliver more personalized instruction than in most urban districts.
The Obama administration’s proposal to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act would reauthorize the Rural Education Achievement Program and other programs that support reform in rural schools. Representative Pomeroy has introduced a bill to reauthorize REAP. The Department makes sure the federal government better supports schools in rural areas by promoting the use of technology to deliver content, giving schools and communities support for programs that meet their specific local needs, and improving technical assistance to ensure that rural districts aren’t disadvantaged in competitive programs.
Secretary Duncan challenged his audience at New Salem-Altmont High School to be a part of the solution. “I want to challenge you to think about what else can be done at the local level to prepare all students to be career-and college ready, to prepare all students to have the skills necessary to succeed in the global economy of the 21st century. … The challenges facing our small-town districts and schools are considerable, but so is the opportunity to reshape the status quo for the better for our children.”