Ensuring Equity Across Rural Schools

During my 11 years as a classroom teacher, I have learned that many things shape the learning opportunities available to a child. These factors can range from the abilities of the classroom teacher, to the climate of the school, to the leadership and vision of administration. We rightfully spend a lot of time discussing how to ensure our children receive the very best in all of these areas. However, last week I encountered one factor we don’t talk about nearly enough, something that can make a more profound difference for children than all others. What is this difference? 23 miles.

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White House Rural Council’s Health IT Initiative Helps Community Colleges Tailor Programs to Workforce Needs

By John White, Judy Murphy, and Thomas Morris

With a major workforce transition underway in many rural hospitals and health clinics, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) hosted a conference call with staff from nearly 80 rural community colleges recently to discuss federal resources available to expand training for health information technology workers.

Putting the I in Health IT LogoDeveloping an adequately trained health IT workforce in rural areas is imperative, and new programs are available to provide incentives for eligible health care providers and hospitals to adopt and meaningfully use electronic health records.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the health IT workforce will increase by 20 percent by the year 2016.  A significant part of that growth will come in rural areas, which are served by approximately 2,000 rural hospitals, 3,700 Rural Health Clinics and approximately 3,000 Community and Migrant Health Centers that are either located in or serve rural communities.

In small rural hospitals and clinics, health IT workers may have multiple roles and responsibilities. Community colleges will be the place where many employers and employees turn for training and re-training to implement and maintain these systems.

Activities and programs at agencies across the Federal government are designed to support and expand workforce training for health IT workers, including:

    • As members of the White House Rural Council, HHS and ED are working together to ensure that rural community colleges are aware of and have access to federal resources to create these high-skilled, in-demand career pathways.
    • In August 2011, President Obama announced a partnership between HHS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture – another member of the WH Rural Council – to make it easier for rural health care providers to purchase health IT and expand training of rural health IT  workers. HHS has also worked closely with the Departments of Labor and Education to support this initiative.
    • The HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) created a community college consortia to educate health IT professionals, which is a part of ONC’s Health IT Workforce Development Program. The program to date has trained over 13,000 health IT professionals – 10 percent are from rural areas.  All colleges in the consortia are offering distance learning to make the training available to students in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.
    • ONC funded five universities to develop a library of health IT training materials.  The materials are designed to be used by instructors to create a curriculum.  Community colleges, supported by ONC grants, have used this material to create curriculum for training students in six workforce roles.  These community colleges are a resource for other colleges interested in starting training programs.
    • Health IT training materials are available on the Department of Labor’s Virtual Career Network. The final version of the curriculum released under the original ONC Health Curriculum Development Centers Program grant is available for anyone to freely download from the National Training & Dissemination Center (NTDC) Web site.

Click here (doc) to review a transcript of the health IT call with rural community colleges.

John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education. Judy Murphy, RN, FACMI, FHIMSS, FAAN, is Deputy National Coordinator for Programs and Policy in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT and Tom Morris is Associate Administrator for Rural Health Policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

#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 

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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.”

Rural Recruits: College and Careers Available

Even in a remote rural community like Altus, Okla., there are clear connections between education and the economy.

Pilot Javier Orama

Captain Javier Orama

During a recent visit to the Air Education and Training Command at Altus Air Force Base, I was reminded of a question I hear occasionally: “Why should rural students go to college when there aren’t many jobs in their communities?” I often wonder how different these communities would be if more youth and adults pursued college and other postsecondary career training opportunities.

Nationally, rural students are less likely to go to college than their peers from urban and suburban areas. At the same time, many rural communities need skilled workers more than ever to fill existing jobs, to attract new employers, and to cultivate entrepreneurship as a means for reinventing their local economies.

Even rural youth considering joining the military will need to continue their education beyond high school.

Altus AFB prepares military personnel for a variety of careers. The Air Education and Training Command provides classroom instruction complemented by computer-based training, and individual tutoring for Airmen in a variety of fields. The base even developed a “grow-your-own” mechanics program.

After climbing inside the enormous C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft during my visit, Captain Javier Orama emphasized the demand for math and technology skills in today’s Air Force.

“The C-17 is a flying computer. In fact, it’s many different computers,” he said.

Captain Orama is a pilot and an instructor for pilots training to fly the C-17 on airlift and refueling missions. The C-17 is a flexible, high-tech aircraft that can refuel in-flight and continue its mission indefinitely. If you dream of flying like Captain Orama, you will need at least a bachelor’s degree. Officers are generally required to be college or university graduates. College and career-level training is also a prerequisite for loadmasters and mechanics supporting the C-17 missions.

More U.S. military personnel come from rural areas than any other parts of our nation. And like private industry, the armed services are also looking for a highly skilled workforce.

Rural young people and adults need access and encouragement to pursue postsecondary education and training programs to lift up their families and communities, and our nation needs them to aim high.

John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach

FFA at White House Rural Economic Forum

“I was an FFA member back in the day” … “Some of my greatest memories are as a student in a rural setting” … “We believe in the future of agriculture and in students like you.

Comments like these were common from White House Staff, business leaders and attendees at the White House’s Rural Economic Forum held at Northeast Iowa Community College on August 16. State FFA Officers from Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa and Illinois joined rural advocates, small business owners, cabinet members, my national FFA officer teammate, Wyatt DeJong, and me in a discussion focusing on rural America.

Riley Pagett and Wyatt DeJong at the White House’s Rural Economic Forum

The day was a success in developing ideas for effective rural communities, recruitment to such areas and other issues involving rural persons and businesses. The day also marked a great step forward for the American education system. People became more aware of the importance of education of people of all ages from all walks of life through breakout sessions. Business and industry leaders, staff, cabinet members and others brainstormed ideas in which we could enhance rural America – educational standards, increased broadband coverage, and opportunities for students to return to production agricultural areas and family farms were topics covered. Thoughts in the breakout sessions were solidified during President Obama’s remarks to the group.

“It’s always a mistake to bet against America. It’s always a mistake to bet against the American worker, the American farmer, the American small business owner, the American People,” President Obama said. As the President wrapped up the rural economic development forum, he said he has confidence in our nation’s economic recovery and is encouraged by what he saw on his trip through rural Iowa and Minnesota.

His comments seemed to motivate attendees and summed up the day. He explained that the future direction of the Rural Council is to support the work done that day and the work of rural people he had encountered during his term.  He thanked “the future farmers” for our commitment to young people, agriculture, education and rural America.

To me, his comments spoke highly of today’s youth and of what we had achieved that day in Iowa – awareness, need for opportunity in rural areas and a sense of community among all.

Riley Pagett
Oklahoma student
2010-11 National FFA President

Join ED’s John White for #EDRuralChat

The U.S. Department of Education’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach, John White, will host the agency’s first Twitter Rural Forum at #EDRuralChat on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 3-3:30 p.m. EDT.  Beginning today, Twitter users can submit questions on rural education to the Deputy Assistant Secretary using the hash tag #EDRuralChat.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan held the Department’s first Twitter Town Hall event of any kind on Aug. 24, 2011.  Thousands of Twitter users submitted #AskArne questions, and Duncan answered a range of tough questions during a town hall conversation moderated by journalist John Merrow.

The Department of Education uses several Twitter accounts to share information and converse with the education community and the American people. Click here for a complete list of ED’s Twitter accounts.

For general news and information about ED, follow @usedgov. To keep up-to-date with Secretary Duncan, follow @ArneDuncan. Justin Hamilton, ED’s Press Secretary, can can be found at @EDPressSec, and Massie Ritsch, Deputy Assistant Secretary for External Affairs and Outreach, shares information and converses with stakeholders, teachers and parents at @ED_Outreach.

Linda Hall
Office of Communications and Outreach

White House Rural Roundtable Meeting in Tennessee

A healthy American economy depends on a prosperous rural America. Which is why President Obama created the White House Rural Council to build upon the administration’s robust economic strategy for rural America, and to ensure that rural communities drive innovation and capitalize on emerging opportunities. On Wednesday, I joined Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, state schools chief Kevin Huffman, Tennessee Teacher of the Year Cheryl Deaton, school superintendents, principals and business leaders in Nashville for a White House Rural Council roundtable. The roundtable focused on education reform efforts being made in Tennessee and in rural areas across the country, and how these reforms can lead to a highly skilled workforce and a stronger economy.

(Official Department of Education Photo By Leslie Williams)

This week’s White House Rural Council roundtable meeting provided a valuable opportunity to discuss the issues and solutions related to preparing rural students for college and jobs that currently exist in their communities.

These conversations guide the work of the Council and help government foster investment, support communities, and spur rural job creation by partnering with leaders in rural America. Established by President Obama in June 2011, the Council is composed of the leaders of every federal agency, who work together to improve coordination of existing federal resources and facilitate public-private partnerships that can strengthen rural communities.

During the roundtable meeting, I was struck by the comments of Tony Cates, a human resource manager for Gestamp Corp., a local Volkswagen supplier. Cates estimated that half of the recent high school graduates who apply for jobs with Gestamp lack the literacy and math skills needed for employment with his company. He said many recent grads also need greater competencies in the “soft skills” related to one’s attitude, motivation, and sense of responsibility for workplace norms.

Several superintendents questioned the goal of preparing all students for college, which they perceived to be the “university track,” and expressed the need for greater emphasis on career and technical education. As Commissioner Huffman correctly observed, we have the same goal but we were speaking a different language. College should mean more than a four-year university degree.

Community colleges for example, are the closest access to college for many rural students, who are less likely than their peers nationally to pursue postsecondary education. Community colleges and secondary schools can partner to create modern technical training programs and career pathways that lead to an Associate Degree or an industry certification. Both of which can provide local businesses with skilled employees.

With $1 billion for career and technical education (CTE) in the President’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget request, this administration remains committed to supporting higher standards for CTE and ensuring that today’s CTE programs teach skills that are needed for today’s jobs instead of the outdated vocational models that no longer meet the needs of their local economies.  

I left Tennessee encouraged by the willingness of rural school leaders to work together to maximize resources, including the use of technology to increase access to high-level science courses. They are acting quickly to support teachers in preparing students to meet higher standards, and recognize the need to expose students to the world of work. 

I am proud to support them as a member of the White House Rural Council and look forward to working with my federal partners to increase opportunity in rural communities now and in the future.

ED and USDA Promote the Value in Rural Partnerships

Land-grant university Cooperative Extension Services can be valuable partners for rural schools, particularly in distant and remote areas where other partnerships are hard to come by.

During a recent webinar, School Improvement Grant (SIG) administrators in state education departments learned more about how the National 4-H and Cooperative Extension programs supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture can help with the national effort to turnaround low-performing schools and end the dropout crisis.

During the webinar, the passion and commitment of Extension directors was evident. North Carolina’s Marshall Smith described how he connects rural teachers and students with the latest research and resources at North Carolina State University. He and other Extension directors throughout the nation are excited by a new partnership that enables them to aggressively leverage the power of the knowledge being developed by their land-grant universities to have greater impact on rural schools.

At the National 4-H Conference in April, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced their shared commitment to support rural school turnarounds and provide solutions to keep students engaged in school.

The Obama Administration has provided unprecedented resources in the form of $4 billion in School Improvement Grants to help states turn around their lowest performing schools, but it recognizes that schools cannot accomplish this difficult work alone. The federal government is not only working with states, but is also engaging with nonprofit and community-based partners to help build school capacity and add programming where needed.

Understanding that nonprofit and community partnerships are limited or nonexistent in some distant and remote rural areas, the Education and Agriculture departments are working together to increase awareness among state education agencies and their SIG schools about resources available through the national 4-H and land-grant university Cooperative Extension programs.

The goal is to increase awareness of the ways 4-H and the Extensions can partner with distant and remote rural schools to create programs that are specific to each school community’s needs, including financial literacy, youth entrepreneurship, STEM and science literacy programs, community engagement, parenting, healthy living, food and nutrition, and other programs that bridge formal and nonformal learning experiences.

To learn more, connect to the ED-USDA webinar materials (.doc).

Inspiration Overcomes Anxiety for Future Teachers in Rural Illinois

Why teach?

“This may sound like a hippie answer, but I want to change the world,” said future teacher Joelle Schulda, when asked what drew her to education. “If I can reach just one child—who knows?—that child could grow up to be the president of the United States.”

A small group of future educators shared their career inspirations and concerns with Deputy Assistant Secretary of Rural Outreach John White during a recent TEACH campaign town hall at the Illinois Valley Community College in rural Oglesby, Illinois.

Some current and former IVCC education students stand with ED’s John White: (front, from left) Kris Sienza, White, Megan Mikesell and Marissa Vicich; (second row) Cortney Mikesell, Joelle Shulda, Jackie Heim and Aseret Gonzalez; (back) Abby Derix and Chris Tidmore. Photo courtesy of IVCC.

White was joined by Illinois State University Dean of Education Deborah Curtis, IVCC Education Program Coordinator Jill Urban-Bollis and IVCC Early Education Program Coordinator Diane Christianson for the panel, moderated by IVCC Vice President for Learning and Student Development Rick Pearce.

Aseret Gonzalez said she sees a “lack of mentorship” in her community and wants to help fill that void as an educator.  Another student hopes to follow in the footsteps of numerous family members who are current or former teachers. “I’ve always known that I wanted to teach,” said IVCC student Kris Sienza.  “I chose math because I used to love it, but found the classes to be really boring as I got older.  I want to get kids excited about math.”

While the students’ passion for education was clear, several discussed concerns about their chosen career path.  “Everything that’s known about teaching is very much changing,” remarked Christianson, as the dialogue turned to teacher layoffs, labor disputes, and other issues facing present-day educators such as the restrictive demands of NCLB.

White discussed the President’s Blueprint for Reform which would “stop labeling schools as failures” by changing its accountability provision to focus on students’ growth over time rather than “measuring different kids each year on one test on one day.”

Despite their concerns, the IVCC students embraced the goals of the TEACH campaign described by White — recruiting nearly 1 million new teachers over the next 5 years to replace the retiring teachers of the baby boomer generation, and celebrating today’s great educators.

The participants plan to work with ED’s communications and outreach team for the Great Lakes Region, based in Chicago, to serve as TEACH “ambassadors” with local high schools in order to encourage more students to consider the teaching profession.

Julie Ewart is the Senior Public Affairs Specialist in the Chicago Regional Office. She is the mother of three school-aged children.

SIG Grant Invested in Teachers, Technology at Rural Turnaround High School

Teachers and administrators in the rural village of DePue, Ill—more than 100 miles southwest of Chicago—are connecting with their colleagues and students in new and exciting ways as they lead the difficult work of turning around academic achievement in their local high school.

Like many who traveled to the this month’s federal 2011 Midwest Regional School Improvement Grant Capacity-Building Conference in Chicago, the DePue School District team is investing heavily in teacher and administrator training to improve instruction. With help from the Department of Education’s School Improvement Grants, they are also deploying the latest technologies to provide students and adults with a new world of learning opportunities.

A teacher at DePue High School uses technology in the classroom

Robert Libka, who leads a transformation team of 10 educators at DePue High School, used Skype to connect with a teacher in Indonesia during a recent professional development workshop. “It was 1 a.m. her time and she was interested enough in our work to log-in,” said Libka, adding that he wants DePue teachers to know their work is important and can have global impact. Technologies such as Skype can improve collaboration for rural educators, and reduce their sense of isolation.

English teacher Mary Flor uses an interactive white board to guide her class of seniors to research on poetry classics. Her students use their laptops to dive deeper into the material than would be possible with only a text book. These new tools are being used to enrich classroom discussions through wireless Internet at school, which is the only online access available to some DePue students.

DePue is also using technology to give its students a head start for college. Many of them are the first in their families to attend college.  It offers college-level coursework to its students online through a partnership with nearby Illinois Valley Community College.

Teacher Tim Stevens uses computer software to help students prepare for the ACT college entrance exam, which is mandatory for all 11th graders in Illinois as a part of its state assessment.  The individually paced instruction has helped some students boost both their scores and their confidence in going on to college.

A transformation is underway at DePue High School – one that is designed to prepare every student for success in college and the career of their choice.

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