To the Editor:
I applaud your project “Reversing a Raw Deal” because, frankly, rural schools and their 12 million students are often entirely excluded from education reform conversations. But I challenge Education Week and educators to also change the rural-reform paradigm from deficit- to asset-based thinking and to consider rural-innovation potential.
As “Reversing a Raw Deal” describes, right now the federal E-rate program is addressing the problem of inadequate Internet connections in rural schools (“The Slowest Internet in Mississippi”). But let’s embrace the opportunity in schools that are not already reliant on the Internet, teachers who teach 21st-century skills without sitting kids in front of screens, and students who are learning from peers. How could the E-rate enhance those resources instead of replicating current school Internet usage in other schools?
Rural schools can be ideal sites for innovation. They are smaller, allowing for tight feedback loops and learning; they have close community connections that bring diverse perspectives and skills into education; and they often have space to explore and learn, connection to a rich natural landscape, and skills-based knowledge. These resources may be harnessed to create fruitful opportunities.
Imagine, for example, a rural elementary school in Iowa. Such a school would likely be small—123 students, eight teachers—and so would the town. The single building might sit on several acres and have a garden. Yes, there are challenges, but it’s transformative to focus on the opportunities. Could a skills-based nutrition curriculum be piloted here? Might the school reconstruct the traditional school schedule to better focus on learning?
We can bring rural schools into the education reform narrative in a way that is asset-based. By doing so, we have the opportunity to create new sites of innovation from which we can learn to improve education for all students.
Andrea M. LaRocca
A version of this article appeared in the February 10, 2016 edition of Education Week as Rural Schools Offer Opportunities for Innovation, Not Just ‘Deficits’