One in five Americans live, work, and learn in rural communities. Yet rural places sometimes seem to play a far smaller role in conversations about improving education – a situation that must change, Secretary Arne Duncan said in a major address at the Rural Education National Forum on October 31 in Ohio.
Among “real and urgent” challenges to world-class rural education are shrinking tax bases, limited AP course access, and a lack of great special education, English-Language Learners (ELL), and STEM teachers.
But the Secretary also recognized the tremendous potential of rural communities to make transformational change and to achieve results.
“I reject the idea that rural districts are too isolated to pioneer innovation and propel powerful partnerships,” said Duncan to an audience of 350. “I reject the narrative that says rural America cannot provide a rich and rigorous curriculum, or compete for attention or funding.”
To promote local progress, the Department continues to make key investments in rural communities through its Race to the Top, School Improvement Grant, and Investing in Innovation (i3) competitions.
The Secretary provided several telling examples of rural communities that have made positive and powerful changes using federal dollars. With a $40 million Race to the Top District award, the Green River Educational Cooperative provided personalized learning to nearly 60,000 students in 22 rural districts. The Niswonger Foundation, based in Tennessee, and eMINTS, in Missouri, used i3 as a catalyst to expand high-quality professional development for teachers and to increase access to college-credit courses for rural high school students.
“Our progress over the last four years, and the outstanding examples of innovation and capacity-building that I see here today, tells me that the narrative of rural education is being rewritten, even as we speak,” said Duncan.
The Rural Education National Forum was part of a two-day Department visit to rural communities, where the Secretary spoke to members of the FFA, participated in early learning forums, and visited with school and student leaders.
Read the Secretary’s speech to the Rural Education National Forum here.
Meredith Bajgier is a Public Affairs Specialist at the U.S. Department of Education