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Insights from Day 1 of the Regional Rural Ed. Conference

What a day!

I love to learn, and I'm doing exactly that at the Southeast Regional Rural Education Summit in Nashville. Rural schools face a unique set of challenges, and it's been enlightening to hear about the research, innovations, and best practices that can help overcome those difficulties.

I took 15 pages of notes Tuesday (seriously!), and I've sifted through those to find some of the best insights, facts, and questions. They are as follows:

• The South not only has a larger percentage of rural schools, but it also has a larger percentage of under-performing rural schools compared to the rest of the country.
—former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist and current chairman of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education

• Are the solutions for rural schools dramatically different than solutions for other schools, or are they the same solutions but harder to execute?
—Kevin Huffman, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education

• The more rural schools and districts can think about how to build regional capacity, the better chance they have of success.
—Kevin Huffman, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education

• As distance and isolation increase, so do poverty and a lack of access to resources.
—John White, deputy assistant secretary for rural outreach for the U.S. Department of Education

• Rural communities not only need an educated workforce, but they need one that's healthy, and that can be a problem.
—Michael Marshall, alternate federal co-chairman of the Delta Regional Authority

• There's a problem with the way we pay rural teachers. We say the cost of living in their community is less, so we pay them less, but that cost of living is determined by the cost of housing, which is substandard. We should set salaries based on what it costs to get them there to teach.
—Rachel Tompkins, retired founding president of the Rural School and Community Trust

• My mother still asks me whether I'm sure I want to send my kids to college because she doesn't want them to move away (afterward). There's a fundamental paradox; even if we create the best students, many will not come back, and that's usually a product of where the jobs are.
—Ted Abernathy, executive director of the Southern Growth Policies Board

• What role will charter schools play in rural communities? Not much. ... We have to figure out how to make the schools we want from the schools we have.
—Rachel Tompkins, retired founding president of the Rural School and Community Trust

• We can create all the supply we want of highly educated kids, but if there aren't any jobs, it'll all be for naught. How do we create an economic development strategy that makes them go back?
—Bo Beaulieu, director of the Southern Rural Development Center

• We're so focused on attracting and recruiting industry that we overlook aspects of our region that could become economic drivers for the future. What can we do to invest in what we already have?
—Bo Beaulieu, director of the Southern Rural Development Center

• There were more similarities than differences between rural and nonrural schools in terms of professional development.
—Gina Kunz, research assistant professor at the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools

• One of the biggest challenges for rural communities is bandwidth. Many Americans live in areas where there's no business case to offer broadband, and where there's no immediate prospect of being served by it, despite the growing cost of digital exclusion.
—Myk Garn, director of educational technology with the Southern Regional Education Board

• A big issue in online learning is getting universities to teach future teachers how to teach online. It requires a whole new set of skills to teach in that environment, and the worst classroom teacher can become the best online teacher and vice versa.
—Allison Powell, vice president of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning

Wednesday's sessions will touch on college readiness and completion, early childhood education, federal policy implications for rural schools, and philanthropy and business in rural education. I'm looking forward to it.

If you're on Twitter, follow along at #ruralsummit or twitter.com/score4schools. Or check back here later for more updates.

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