There’s good news for rural school districts. According to the education nonprofit organization EducationSuperHighway, 96 percent of public schools in the U.S. (an estimated 44 million students) have adequate Internet resources required for digital learning.
And while a statistic like this means good news for educators working to close the Homework Gap in this country, the report shows a different gap that needs to be bridged—one between urban school districts and rural ones.
Rural Equity Disadvantages
How are rural school districts across the U.S. faring when it comes to the equity of digital access and the continued efforts to narrow the Homework Gap? According to an analysis of the EducationSuperHighway report by Education Dive, not so great.
Of the estimated 1,356 schools still off the grid in this country, many of them are located in rural districts.
“Technology is expensive, and getting it to rural districts is the hardest piece of the puzzle,” says Education Dive writer Jessica Campisi. “And with urban areas typically facing fewer barriers than their rural counterparts, significant inequities arise across the nation. That can have huge impacts in the long run, with students in these locations facing disadvantages when applying to colleges or pursuing a career.”
Future Ready Schools published a guidebook last year that focuses specifically on how to help close the Homework Gap in rural school districts. It identifies many of the key barriers preventing rural students from accessing the same resources and opportunities as their urban peers:
- Rural school systems suffer from state funding systems that allocate funds based on the number of students in a given district.
- Rural communities have to manage diseconomies of scale when it comes to the cost of shared resources, such as public transportation.
- Rural communities often have a difficult time attracting and retaining high-quality teaching talent.
Higher Rural Student Absentee Rates
Another dilemma facing rural school districts is a higher absentee rate.
The five states listed as having the highest rate of absences for eighth-grade students in 2015 were largely rural according to a September 2018 study released by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).
Factors that can contribute to poor attendance rates include:
- Health disparities
- Food insecurity
- Poor access to transportation
- Lack of clean clothes
- A potential for homelessness
As the EPI study’s authors note, “residence in a disadvantaged area may therefore amplify or reinforce the distinct negative effects of absenteeism on educational outcomes for low-income students.”
Early Innovative Initiatives
Despite this, there are several efforts underway in which the leaders of rural school districts are taking charge and using innovative tools, programs, and initiatives to help ensure their K-12 students have the best chance for success in education.
One example of a fascinating digital initiative is happening right now in northern Montana. Students at Havre Public Schools, in a rural district close to the Canada border, now have the opportunity to take advantage of makerspaces thanks to financial and technological support from a team of ed tech organizations: VMware Foundation, Team4Tech, and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).
These makerspaces give middle school students something constructive to do if they arrive early to school, which may help encourage students to attend school and reduce absenteeism.
The experiment with Havre Public Schools, explored in a story by The Hechinger Report, looks to be just the start of additional experiments, with the goal being “to help rural districts use technology to change teaching and learning in ways that prepare students for work and life in the modern world.”
Taking Back Travel Time
Similar success is coming out of places like North Carolina’s Caldwell County and Tennessee’s Clarksville-Montgomery County School System.
These rural counties, with long bus rides for students traveling to and from school, are getting help from Google’s Rolling Study Halls, which provides students with Wi-Fi connectivity powered by the Kajeet SmartBus™ solution, Chromebooks, and support from an on-board educator so that epically long travel time doesn’t have to be lost time for education.
Says Lilyn Hester, head of external affairs for Google (Southeast US Region):
The effects were immediate—almost too immediate for some bus drivers who were shocked (and a little confused) when their commutes became so quiet. Students were engaged. They were learning. And after a few months, there were more real results: School officials saw students do better in school. It was working.
How Kajeet Can Help Rural School Districts
Central to the program was the Kajeet SmartBus solution, which helped transform Google school buses into mobile classrooms. By providing CIPA-compliant Internet on school buses, Kajeet transformed the dead time of a long bus ride to and from school into productive learning time for rural students.
And that is just with the Google Rolling Study Hall initiative. Kajeet currently partners with over 750 schools and districts across the nation, bringing Internet connectivity to students.
Now that Kajeet is available on the U.S. Cellular® network, along with Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-mobile, more rural areas can have access to educational Wi-Fi through the Kajeet SmartBus and Kajeet SmartSpot® solutions. Educational productivity in rural areas depends on those very same areas having reliable access to broadband Internet. If you are in a rural area, ensure your students have the connectivity they need outside the classroom to be successful in school.
Learn more about how Kajeet can help your rural school district overcome the hurdles keeping it from closing your Homework Gap.