Bridging the Educational Gap for Rural Students

A significant gap in K-12 educational options exists in our country, as evidenced by the disparities in curricula and resources currently offered by schools across America. Geographic location should not, however, impede the access that students have to a variety of disciplines and types of learning methodologies that best suit their educational needs. We need to increase equity in educational opportunities for all students, including those from outside major metropolitan areas.

As U.S. Secretary of Education, it was my duty to raise national standards of educational excellence. I believe in parental choice in schooling options, which began with my strong support for charter schools when serving as Superintendent of the Houston Independent School District. Key to the success of charter schools is the broad powers they are granted to make decisions regarding textbooks and other learning materials, and blended and online learning are natural extensions of this mission: to ensure that no child is left behind through innovative education.

The Foundation for Blended and Online Learning team believes that equal learning opportunities should be available to K-12 students from anywhere—including rural areas. In 2017, 16 of the 30 recent high school graduates we awarded scholarships to hailed from small towns in Arkansas, Idaho, and West Virginia. Each of these students completed a program of study that includes blended or fully online courses.

These programs have the potential to close the opportunity gaps that persist for historically underserved students. The thoughtful integration of technology enables schools outside of major metropolitan areas to provide access to the best teachers in high-demand subjects as well as top-rate curriculum and content. As a result, high school students from rural areas can now embark upon a more level playing field in their post-secondary education and professional pursuits.

But in order to succeed in this mission, we need to involve educators just as much as students. To that end, our Innovative Educator Program provides grants to support teachers in developing practices or programs that overcome achievement gaps, drive engagement, and personalize learning for their students.

I am privileged to serve on the board of the Foundation for Blended and Online Learning, and to support its mission to advance and improve the availability and quality of blended and online educational opportunities for students and teachers.