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Registry Can Enrich Rural Learning, but Where Will the Money Come From?

Few measures better illustrate how quality broadband can level the playing field for small, rural schools than the idea of a National Learning Registry—a step announced at Wednesday's National Rural Education Technology Summit in Washington. Look for Ian Quillen's report on the Digital Education blog.

The potential is obvious: Such a registry would offer students in geographically isolated locales ready, organized access to the nation's amazing array of digital historic artifacts, such as those held by The Smithsonian Institution's Air and Space Museum.

The catch: Those rural schools need the hardware, software, and know-how to use such a registry to their full advantage. They also need buildings with spaces suitable for that kind of learning and with infrastructure that supports it. And, they need kids to have access in their homes, too, so they (and their parents) can work on assignments. Securing those resources is costly, and funding—local, state and federal—lags behind in many sparsely populated states, where tax bases are meager.

Money to pay for technology, broadband capability, and know-how—the elements of the "redesign" of learning that Education Secretary Arne Duncan talks so much about—remained a theme at the summit. Being connected, long the standard for rural schools, is no longer sufficient. Speed and capability are crucial. The Sioux Falls, S.D., Argus Leader reports that South Dakota schools chief Tom Oster told the summit the state's public schools' Internet infrastructure, which dates to the 1990s, is in danger of falling behind modern capabilities.

The Digital Education blog notes how the Obama administration has shied away from designating a specific amount of funds for education technology. Duncan, at the summit, advised rural schools and states to pool their resources. That's a smart strategy, and good business, to boot. But it will not by itself put the information that will be in the National Learning Registry at the fingertips of every child.

Read, too, how a panel of three superintendents at the summit described the varied challenges rural schools face fully integrating technology into daily learning.

The National Learning Registry is a powerful tool. It can erase the distance separating America's rural children from enriched learning. The question left unresolved at Wednesday's summit: Where might rural schools and rural states look for the additional money necessary to pay for increasingly complex and costly learning technology?

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