Rural Education is Being Rewritten

Duncan at speech

Secretary Arne Duncan gave remarks at the Rural Education National Forum, hosted by Battelle for Kids and the Ohio Department of Education.

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.”

Duncan Shoots Hoops

During Duncan’s rural stops he took time to shoot hoops with students at Dunbar High School in Dayton, Ohio.

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


  1. I come from an urban area, but I attend university in a more rural place. I think it’s very problematic to think of “troubled” schools as purely an urban question. Many rural schools might need just as much assistance – or even more, depending on the location. I’m happy that the Department is working to ensure that all children, not just those in urban or (especially) suburban areas, are getting the best possible quality of education.

  2. Rural Florida students are greatly benefitting from a RTTT funded program called the FloridaLearns STEM Scholars Initiative for Gifted and Talented Students. The program is helping students in rural schools that previously had difficulty offering advanced classes due to small enrollment. By partnering with industry and colleges, real world experiences are creating terrific opportunities for this underserved student population. If only we had greater broadband access, we could do even more.

  3. I am an educator in a SE Ohio rural school district who has been a part of all of the most current educational reform initiatives. Rural schools combine tradition, community, and innovation together as they move forward with the changes they are making, always remembering that the relationships we have with our families and communities must be preserved and at the same time also encouraging them too be forward and think outside the box for the sake of the kids. I am proud to work in a small town and be a part of this process and am excited to see Mr. Duncan acknowledge rural education innovation and collaboration!

  4. There is a clear correlation between federal government involvement in education and the destruction of true learning. Rural communities should do everything they can to keep the Department of Education far far away from their children.

  5. Hello,

    Our faculty needs technology instruction for PD. Our school is in a rural area in Winchester, Indiana. The opportunity/funds for Professional Training is limited and even more so this year. Our rural community needs better Internet Access and better trained teachers to provide students the best education using technology.

    I’m glad you stopped to visit some of the schools selected for the Race to the Top in Ohio. I hope you continue to address the needs of other rural schools and help them also.

  6. Uh, did you ever think for one minute that a lot of us that live in rural areas to get away from the supposedly so superior urban and suburban ‘paradise’ that progressives have created? Perhaps, we really ought to rethink all this “innovation” in education and realize that the classical approach was classical for a reason…. IT WORKED, it worked so well it gave us the most technological innovation the human race had ever seen, it lifted the great mass of our citizens and people around the world out of subsistence living, and produced more prosperity for more people than in all of human history from way way back until 1600. In a mere 400 years we developed tools, techniques, and technology that revolutionized human life on this planet. Maybe the old ways are not so bad…. leave well enough alone!

  7. Rural schools need access to high speed internet. We need fiber access in order for our students to access information without the slow speed and high costs of multiple T-1 lines!

  8. To innovate rural educators need resources, we cannot compete on a even playing field when sequestration keeps undermining our efforts. RTT has great potential, however some districts are challenged to compete with nearby larger districts.

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