Our New Report Examines Digital Learning in America's Rural Schools

There are nine million American students currently attending rural schools. While it may seem comparatively small with regard to our full national K-12 student cohort, this number exceeds the enrollments of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and the next 75 largest school districts combined. Only 5% of students are classified as urban learners, whereas 19% attend rural schools.

Surprisingly, this group — which comprises one-fifth of the entire U.S. student population — remains largely underserved compared to their suburban and big-city peers. It’s a problem that has been widely acknowledged and discussed.

We want to better understand what can be done about it.

At FBOL, we believe digital learning has a significant role to play in adjusting this imbalance. Our newly published report, Digital Learning Strategies for Rural America, explores the many ways rural schools are integrating learning technologies, new methodologies, and a variety of content into their curricula. As a result, they’re helping to secure a better future for children and entire communities. The report includes case studies from 15 states in regions across the U.S., and focuses on the specific ways in which districts, schools, and policies are addressing student needs through blended and online learning.

While our research underscores promising initiatives and potential solutions, it’s important to note that rural students continue to face many challenges. School districts in America’s countryside typically have far fewer resources at their disposal than their metropolitan counterparts. Geographically isolated regions often provide only one school for students to attend—their local school of residence—thereby inherently limiting their ability to embrace school choice.

A lack of access to diverse learning materials limits the course options available to rural learners. Teacher shortages mean more vacancies in crucial subjects, such as science, math and language arts. Commuting can be both lengthy and costly for rural students, and often serves as an additional strain, as many live in economically-depressed regions. Students’ college and career prospects are impacted as a result.

As our in-depth report demonstrates, digital learning can help to address these issues by enabling educators and policymakers to rethink access in ways that better navigate resource limitations. State-led initiatives are bringing broadband access to schools regardless of their location, and with it, access to best-in-class educational content. Online learning also enables students in remote areas to connect with teachers in high-demand subjects, no matter where they are. Offering innovative courses can further break down the distance barrier by extending learning beyond the brick-and-mortar walls of the classroom.

Historically, the role of technology has not been front and center in discussions about how to improve rural education. In light of that, I’m excited to share Digital Learning Strategies for Rural America, which connects the dots between America’s rural regions, quality education, and digital learning.