Connecting Educators, Building Communities Across Rural America

In an increasingly interconnected world, we can no longer allow geography to be a barrier to education and opportunity in rural America.

Through the national broadband plan and unprecedented investments in education reform, the Obama administration is leveraging the power of technology to overcome distance and increase collaboration to accelerate student achievement in rural schools.

Today, the White House Rural Council announced the U.S. Department of Education’s new online community of practice group for rural schools. Virtual communities of practice provide a platform for educators to connect to resources, tools, colleagues, experts, and learning activities, both within and beyond schools.

Rural school leaders and teachers can join this online community for rural schools by logging-on to www.schoolturnaroundsupport.org and creating an account. As membership grows, rural educators will be able to connect with peers in their home states and across the nation to exchange ideas and learn from one another.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

This new community of practice is the latest effort to address the needs of rural educators. Last year, the Department of Education (ED) launched its school turnaround community to support Title I school improvement grantees. ED has scheduled a summer Webinar series to begin the dialog and introduce members to research-based best practices.

Turning around chronically low achieving schools is tough work and no one should feel they have to do this work alone.

The Department is turning to technology because it breaks down geographic barriers and addresses rural isolation in education. Opportunities for using the Internet as a bridge to overcome geography and bring new opportunities to rural areas will continue to increase.

I hope you will join our online school turnaround learning community and share what works in your rural schools.

Thank you for joining our community, and for your commitment to providing a world-class education to the students of rural America.

Arne Duncan is the secretary of education

Day Two Iowa: Improving Rural Economies & Transforming CTE

Richard Rice, a Hawkeye Community College student, shows Secretary Duncan a sculpture he designed in class. Official Department of Education photo by Paul Wood.

Richard Rice, a Hawkeye Community College student, shows Secretary Duncan a sculpture he designed in class. Official Department of Education photo by Paul Wood.

“I hadn’t taken an algebra class in 40 years,” community college student Jennifer DeLange told Secretary Duncan yesterday morning at a White House Rural Council Roundtable in Waterloo, Iowa. DeLange spent years working in a plastics factory, but when the plant shut down, she found herself unemployed in a tough job market. With the help of Trade Adjustment Assistance, DeLange enrolled at Hawkeye Community College and is working her way through the school’s LPN program.

The Hawkeye roundtable discussion was the first event during the second day of Duncan’s visit to the Midwest, and included Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Executive Director for the Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers at the Department of Labor, Jay Williams, as well as students, faculty and business leaders.

The roundtable discussion centered on the importance of improving rural economies by training and retraining workers for in-demand careers.  During the discussion, Williams spoke to the importance of career training, explaining that “not everyone is going to get a four-year degree, but you have to have skills beyond high school.” Read more about the Obama Administration’s Community College to Career proposal that would train two million workers for in jobs in high-demand industries.

Transforming Career and Technical Education

Duncan’s second stop of the day was at Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny, Iowa, where he joined Brenda Dann-Messier, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Vocational and Adult Education, to release the Obama Administration’s blueprint for transforming Career and Technical Education (CTE).

“It’s no surprise that rigorous, relevant, and results-driven CTE programs are vital to preparing students to succeed in the global economy of the 21st century,” Duncan said at the event.

Through a $1 billion investment in the Obama Administration’s FY 2013 budget, the Administration’s blueprint for reauthorizing the Perkins Act will transform the Perkins program in four key areas:

    • Alignment: Ensuring that the skills taught in CTE programs reflect the actual needs of the labor market so that CTE students acquire the 21st century skills necessary for in-demand occupations within high-growth industry sectors.
    • Collaboration: Incentivizing secondary schools, institutions of higher education, employers, and industry partners to work together to ensure that all CTE programs offer students high-quality learning opportunities.
    • Accountability: Requiring CTE programs to show, through common definitions and related performance measures, that they are improving academic outcomes and enabling students to build technical and job skills.
    • Innovation: Promoting systemic reform of state-level policies to support effective CTE implementation and innovation at the local level.

Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier, who outlined the four key areas above, explained that “our federal investment in CTE must be dramatically reshaped to fulfill its potential to prepare all students, regardless of their background or circumstances, for further education and cutting-edge careers.”

Click here to read more about the Blueprint and for related resources, read our post from day one of Duncan’s trip, and check out our Storify Story from day two.

Duncan Talks College Affordability and Rural Ed in WI and IA

Secretaries Duncan and Vilsack at a town hall in Wisconsin

Secretaries Duncan and Vilsack held a town hall in Wisconsin to discuss rural education and the teaching profession. Official Department of Education photo by Paul Wood.

Waterloo, Iowa – It’s not often that town hall meetings are interrupted by the gentle moo of a calf, but that’s exactly the interjection that two Cabinet secretaries and an audience interested in rural education experienced Wednesday at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s Pioneer Farm.

The mooing didn’t seem to bother the hundreds of educators, FFA members and other students who had gathered to discuss the teaching profession and rural education with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Students and teachers posed thoughtful and challenging questions to the secretaries on stage.

“Our country’s economy can’t be strong if our rural economy isn’t strong,” Duncan said at the event. Both he and Vilsack talked about the importance of public-private partnerships and the fact that communities need to come together in order for America’s economy to continue to grow. Secretary Vilsack noted how important farming is to America, even for those who are far removed from America’s pastures. The U.S. “has an amazing ag story,” he said, explaining that we need to “talk differently in this country about agriculture.”

Duncan and Vilsack also announced a new interagency agreement that will advance agricultural education and promote postsecondary and career pathways, including teaching. Click here for more information and watch a video of the town hall.

College Affordability

The town hall at UW-Platteville was just one stop in a busy day for Secretary Duncan, who started the day discussing college affordability with seniors at East High School in Madison, Wis. Madison Metropolitan School District superintendent Dan Nerad started off the town hall by reminding us that in “the American dream of ensuring that these great young people accomplish more than our generation, postsecondary education must be affordable.”

Click here to read President Obama’s Blueprint for College Affordability.

Together for Tomorrow School Improvement Challenge

Later in the day, Duncan stopped in Dubuque, Iowa, and joined the Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, ED’s director for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, to hold a “Together for Tomorrow” town hall on the value of community partnerships in helping to propel school improvement.

During the event, Duncan announced the Together for Tomorrow School Improvement Challenge, which challenges schools, national service programs, higher education institutions, and community and faith-based organizations to work together to turn around low-performing schools. Click here for more information.

Click here for a our Storify Story of day one, and check back for updates on day two of Secretary Duncan’s trip.

Duncan and Vilsack Discuss Rural Partnerships Before Visit to WI and IA

Secretaries Duncan and Vilsack

Secretaries Duncan and Vilsack. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

“As the rural community goes, so goes our nation,” Secretary Arne Duncan said yesterday at the Education Commission of the States’ second “Summit on the Role of Education in Economic Development in Rural America,” in Arlington, Va. Duncan joined Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to address and discuss solutions for overcoming the unique challenges faced by distant and rural communities.

Duncan and Vilsack highlighted the Obama Administration’s commitment to and accomplishments in improving education and the economy in rural America. Recent collaboration between ED and USDA include increasing rural partnerships, supporting rural community colleges, and support for school turnarounds.

Yesterday’s event came one day before a two-day visit to Wisconsin and Iowa, where Secretary Duncan will focus on higher education, elevating the teaching profession, community partnerships and career and technical education. Secretary Vilsack will join Duncan for two events during the trip.

Today, Duncan and Vilsack will be in Platteville, Wis. to host a White House Rural Council event with agriculture teachers from across Wisconsin to discuss the Administration’s RESPECT Project. Watch the event LIVE at 12:25 p.m. CT and join the conversation on Twitter by using the #ruraled hashtag.

On Thursday, Duncan and Vilsack will travel to Waterloo, Iowa, where they’ll be joined by Jay Williams, executive director of the Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers at the U.S. Department of Labor, and local students, faculty, and business leaders, to host a White House Rural Council workforce training roundtable discussion.

Click here for the full schedule of Secretary Duncan’s visit, and click here to receive email updates on rural education.

Join us for the National Rural Education Technology Summit 2.0

Whether you’re on a farm, in a small town, or at home in your slippers, we’re inviting you to join us on Monday, April 30, from noon to 6 p.m. ET for the National Rural Education Technology Summit 2.0, as we use the power of technology to overcome distance, bring resources to rural schools, and engage administrators, teachers, and students in this free virtual conference.

To join the summit, visit www.ruraleducationtechsummit.org and register today. After registering, you will be able to view the program, which will include live STEM sessions ideal for classroom participation, afternoon professional development opportunities, and messages from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Smithsonian Institution Secretary G. Wayne Clough, and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski,

You will also learn more about college and career-ready standards implementation, and utilizing the Department of Education’s online communities of practice.

In between sessions, visit the virtual resource hall for information on a variety of federal programs, loans, and grant funding opportunities. Most of all plan to participate with presenters and each other, chatting at the Summit and live on Twitter using hashtag #ruraled. See you at the Summit!

John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach, U.S. Department of Education

Duncan Talks College Affordability in South Carolina

Secretary Duncan and Congressman Clyburn

Secretary Duncan and Congressman Clyburn are greeted by a student at James Simons Elementary School in North Charleston

“If college is unaffordable, then it will become unattainable,” Secretary Arne Duncan tweeted while in South Carolina last Friday during a one-day, three-city visit that focused on innovative education reform and keeping college affordable for America’s families.

Duncan began the day in North Charleston, and joined Congressman James Clyburn (D-S.C.), students, teachers, business leaders and policymakers for a roundtable discussion on school reform, bullying and community engagement. “Education is an investment, not an expense,” Arne said at James Simon Elementary. “We have to education our way to a better economy.”

The Secretary and the Congressman also stopped at Scott’s Branch High School in Summerton where they joined former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley to speak with students and teachers about the school’s “Creating a Corridor of Innovation” program.

With the help of an Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from ED, Scott’s Branch is implementing a New Tech High School model that is infused with the latest technology for education, and implements a project-based learning approach that can help increase college and career readiness in high-poverty rural areas.

Duncan and Clyburn ended the day by hosting a college affordability town hall with students at Allen University in Columbia, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU).

Click here for more information on the Obama Administration’s plan to keep college affordable.

#AskFAFSA Hours with @RuralED’s John White

For students in rural areas who may need help paying for college, it’s important that you complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA.)

FAFSAWe understand the financial aid process can often be overwhelming, especially if you’ve never gone through it before. That’s why the @RuralED team wants to know what questions you have about the financial aid process and the FAFSA.

On March 27th at 6pm EST, @RuralED & @FAFSA will be hosting Office Hours live on Twitter to answer all your financial aid questions – especially the tough ones!

Here’s how it works:

    • Follow @FAFSA & @RuralED on Twitter for information and tips.
    • Start submitting your questions today using the hashtag #AskFAFSA. We’ll continue to take questions throughout the week.
    • On March 27th at 6pm EST, the FAFSA team and I will be on hand to answer your #AskFAFSA questions on Twitter. Follow the Q&A live through the @RuralED and @FAFSA Twitter accounts.

If you can’t make the live session, a summary of the live chat including the full Q&A will be posted on the ED.gov blog following the event.

The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s the form to fill out in order to apply for student grants, work-study, and loans. To receive federal student aid for the 2012-13 school year, you must complete the 2012-13 FAFSA at www.fafsa.gov.  Some financial aid is first-come, first-served, so we encourage all potential and returning students to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible. Remember, four-year colleges and universities aren’t the only schools that accept the FAFSA. Community colleges, trade schools nursing schools, online schools, and career schools do too.  So check your FAFSA deadline and complete the FAFSA today: www.fafsa.gov

John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach

Note to schools: Did you know that you can now access FAFSA submission and completion data for your school? 

#RuralED Chat Addresses Partnerships and Community Resources

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach John White joined W.K. Kellogg Foundation CEO Sterling Speirn recently in a discussion on Twitter about using partnerships and other resources to address the needs of high poverty rural schools. A snapshot of the dialog is provided below. White will be hosting frequent Tweet-ups on pressing issues facing education in rural communities. Follow @RuralED on Twitter to join the conversation.

Geographic Barriers 

Read More

How Are You Increasing Opportunities in Rural Schools?

President Obama’s FY2013 budget request includes a discretionary funding increase of $1.7 billion for education, maintains critical formula funding that many rural schools depend on, and proposes new grant opportunities to support innovation. Many rural schools are forming partnerships to increase their capacity to compete for federal dollars, overcome their unique challenges, and increase student achievement.

On Feb. 22 at 3 p.m. ET, join John White, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach, and Sterling Speirn, president & CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for a Twitter chat about partnerships, innovation, and education reform in high-need rural schools. The Kellogg Foundation has supported rural applicants in the Investing in Innovation (i3) Fund grant competition, and supports programs that propel vulnerable children to achieve success in many rural communities.

This is your chance to ask us questions and to describe unique rural partnerships and innovative solutions that are helping to overcome the challenges of distance and isolation in your rural communities. Send tweets at any time before or during the Twitter chat using the hashtag #ruraled. White will respond live @RuralED and Speirn will tweet @WK_Kellogg_Fdn.

Following the event, you can find a summary of the Q&A session at www.ed.gov/blog.

Rural Educator Bringing Change

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Robyn Hadley photo

In 2005 when I first began working with the Alamance-Burlington School System in North Carolina to start a college access and career awareness program, “What’s After High School?,” this quote in the office at Eastern Alamance High School caught my attention and I wrote it down:

Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not. This is the first lesson to be learned. — Thomas Huxley

Later I thought to myself, “that’s really what college access is… teaching young people about the world and opportunities beyond where they live, showing them how a college education can help them realize those opportunities and equipping them with the tools and resources to do what they ‘have to do, when it ought to be done, whether (they) like it or not’…”

Prior to working with the local school system, in 2004 I organized a group of friends to start “YES I CAN,” a one-time, faith-based college access program at Children’s Chapel United Church of Christ. Our goal was to serve 25 African American children in grades 6-12 and their parents to help them understand how to be successful in school, prepare for college and pay for it. By the end of the summer we had served more than 100 students and parents. Seven years later the YES I CAN Program is now Youth Enrichment Series, Inc., a 501c3, serving students in grades 3-12. Parents, friends, family and colleagues play a major role in this all volunteer operation. Our graduates and former student advisors are enrolled in or graduates of more than twenty 2- year and 4- year colleges and universities in North Carolina and other states. I was encouraged to contact the Alamance-Burlington School System about opportunities to develop college access programming to impact all students and families in our community. That’s how the “What’s After High School?” Program was conceived.

The goal of the “What’s After High School?” Program has been to provide more uniform and consistent student support and counseling services, especially to those students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds who have potential as first-generation college students. Activities are developed and conducted in partnership with school faculty and staff, students, families and community organizations. Grant funding and community partnerships are actively pursued to enhance the program and increase the number of Alamance-Burlington students who attend and graduate from college, receive adequate financial aid, and are exposed to viable workplace opportunities.

Today in Alamance County, one in five adults has a bachelor’s degree and about seven percent have an associate’s degree. That is a much lower figure than our award-winning neighbor an hour away, the Research Triangle Park (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill). My community is like many rural Southern communities where tobacco, textiles and low-skilled, low-wage labor were once king. Now more than ever the “What’s After High School?” Program has become an integral part of our school system’s effort in transitioning our community into one where more students are graduating from high school, enrolling in college and completing the FAFSA correctly. It takes a Superintendent with vision and many, many people and hours, if not years, for such a transition to occur, but we are on our way.

In our elementary, middle and high schools now we talk about the “Three E’s: ENROLLMENT, EMPLOYMENT and ENLISTMENT” to help every student (K-12) understand that we expect them to choose one or more of these “E’s” and decrease the number of high school graduates who receive diplomas and have no postsecondary plans and nowhere to go. College access data covering SAT participation rates, AP and Huskins enrollments and FAFSA completion, among other indicators like EVAAS data, are now reviewed wholistically by central office administrators, principals, counselors and others to guide American School Counselor Association (ASCA) model plans and school improvement plans. Our designation by the state as a “low wealth” school system has often left our schools without many of the programs our neighbors have, but now Race to the Top funds, for example, have allowed us to start the AVID program in one middle school and develop data collection and assessment tools for the “cloud.”

College tours and coloring books about college for elementary school students, financial aid sessions for middle school parents, partnerships with universities to provide academic summer camps, a Saturday college access conference for students and parents are now on the menu in Alamance County. Among other things, the opening of a new Career Technical Education Center and an Early College this year will help the transition and ultimately complement the efforts of the Alamance County Area Chamber of Commerce to attract industry and better paying jobs for our community.

National Student Clearinghouse data we receive through a pilot partnership with the Carolina College Advising Corps and Stanford University confirms that about 60% of our high school graduates enroll in college the fall after graduating from high school. However only one in three of our students completes the FAFSA based on detailed information we receive as part of the Secretary of Education’s FAFSA Completion Pilot Program. We must do better and we will. Today’s global economy requires a different kind of entrepreneur and employee than the ones that graduated from high school in the 1980′s like I did. School systems, school leaders, politicians and parents will have to adapt to these requirements quickly, but systemically to create pathways for children to climb into the ranks of high school and college graduates.

Robyn Hadley is a Champion of Change and is a Rhodes Scholar, first generation graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a product of Head Start. She is the Founding Director of The “What’s After High School?” Program for the Alamance-Burlington School System in NC and author of “Within View, Within Reach: Navigating the College Bound Journey.”

Some of Nation’s Finest Talk About Teaching in Rural America

When the White House recently celebrated the latest class of National Board Certified teachers, several of the honorees traveled to Washington from some of America’s most remote and distant rural communities to receive the teaching profession’s highest credential. During their visit, we caught up with these rural teachers to hear their stories about what it’s like to teach in rural America.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

These rural teachers describe challenges with funding, a lack of technology, and the need to elevate the teaching profession while expanding curriculum in order to prepare students for a 21st century economy.

Jenny Lovering, a history teacher at Columbia Falls High School in Montana near the Canadian border, addressed the “brain drain” that challenges many rural areas. Her goal is to prepare students for college and careers, so they are equipped to compete, return and rebuild their community. “I want to be able to help them to get to the places where they want to go, so they can come back. I want them to be able to bring in new industries and new ideas to revitalize this area that they love,” she said.

While in the nation’s capital, the new NBC teachers attended a White House forum held to recognize the importance of the teaching profession. Teachers shared their thoughts on their profession and how the Administration can help support educators to ensure that every student receives high-quality instruction. In addition to the forum, senior officials at the Department of Education engaged in a series of roundtables with the teachers to speak with them about strengthening the profession and to get their input on how to best develop teachers to become leaders in the classroom.

To keep the public informed about efforts to elevate the teaching profession, the Department has produced a “Plan to Reform Teacher Education.” Senior leaders in the Department continue to engage with teachers during school visits, at national and regional conferences, through new media like Twitter and Facebook, and through newsletters and the Web. We invite new ideas and more participants in this important conversation.

John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach

Teaming Up to Support Rural Community Colleges

It’s no secret that community colleges are leading the way to achieving the President’s goal for the United States to once again have the highest college attainment rate in the world by 2020. Community colleges are hubs for career-training, re-training, adult education and for recent high school graduates seeking a pathway into the careers of their choice.

Secretary Duncan, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and their agencies are working together to support community colleges as they provide postsecondary education and career training in rural areas. Photo courtesy of USDA.

For many residents of rural areas, community colleges also provide the closest access to postsecondary education and a way to obtain the skills needed for existing jobs.  However, like some of their students, many rural community colleges are doing more with less as state budgets are being cut and new resources are becoming harder to find.

During the 2011 rural community colleges conference in Oklahoma, many attendees asked about funding and resources available from the Department of Education but few were as familiar with opportunities in other federal agencies. Some rural community college administrators were unaware of the significant infrastructure of support available through their USDA Rural Development state and local offices.

As the American Jobs Act languishes in Congress, preventing an infusion of $5 billion for modernization from reaching community colleges, the U.S. Departments of Education and Agriculture are working together to guide campuses serving high-poverty rural communities to existing federal resources.

During a recent conference call with members of the Rural Community College Alliance and the American Association of Community Colleges, nearly 100 participants learned about USDA Rural Development programs and funding opportunities that can be used to improve facilities, support distance learning, and provide home ownership assistance as a recruitment and retention tool for faculty.

The USDA Community Facilities Program can be used for construction and renovation of classrooms and dormitories, and even to purchase transportation vehicles to serve campus facilities. The USDA Single Family Housing Programs provide homeownership opportunities to low- and moderate-income rural Americans through several loan, grant, and loan guarantee programs.

USDA Distance Learning and Telemedicine grants can cover the cost of equipment for video conferencing and other distance learning equipment. USDA’s Community Connect program provides grants to build broadband Internet infrastructure and establish community centers to offer free public access in rural areas where broadband service is least likely to be available, but where it can make a tremendous difference in the quality of life for citizens.

These are a few of the ways that USDA can support rural communities, and the Department of Education is working to increase awareness of how college leaders can access these opportunities.

John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach