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Growing Bandwith Demands Create Challenge for Rural Schools

The Internet can be a powerful equalizer for rural schools, but many small districts don't have the technology capacity to leverage that resource.

A new story published this week by my Education Week colleague Ian Quillen describes how this need will be further exacerbated as schools move to the Common Core State Standards.

And a separate new report, "Broadband for Rural America: Economic Impacts and Economic Opportunities," also released this week, said education and healthcare are the two areas in rural communities losing the most economic opportunities because of broadband deficiencies.

The EdWeek article points out that rural schools in particular may struggle to have enough connectivity to give standardized tests to their entire student populations. The story quotes one educational technology expert who offers a great analogy on how the Internet is similar to a municipal water system in its design, and connection speed (like water pressure) can suffer if the capacity for data transmission is low at any point on the delivery system.

"They haven't built the pipes out to get it there (to rural schools), so even if they could find the dollars to buy additional bandwidth, it's not there, it doesn't exist," said Denise Atkinson-Shorey, an educational technology consultant, in the story.

The Hudson Institute, a nonpartisan policy research group based in Washington, suggested in a separate report that postsecondary education opportunities are economically more important than those at elementary and secondary levels in terms of the broadband gap. With every advanced education degree, earnings increase, and online education programs give rural residents the chance to earn training, certifications, and degrees.

"There is a very real danger of a growing technology gap between rural and urban America," according to the report. "This gap, if not addressed, will have growing consequences for the American economy, both urban and rural."

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