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Technology Key to Rural Arkansas School Turnaround

A rural high school in northwest Arkansas has used technology to move from a failing status to one of the top schools in the state, according to a recent story by The Hechinger Report.


The school was about to fall victim to a state takeover in 2011 when principal Daisy Dyer Duerr took over. Within a year, she launched a new technology program and applied for grants to boost the school's Internet access and bandwidth. She gave teachers iPads and encouraged them to learn how to use new technology and use it weekly in their classrooms.

"We said, do whatever it takes to learn those iPads," Duerr said in the article, "and just be on fire with them when you come back in the fall."

Teachers in the school embraced the technology and used it to personalize learning for students and collaborate with educators across the country. Between 2010 and 2014, the percentage of students who scored proficient or advanced on the state literacy exams increased from 59 percent to 79 percent. On math exams, the percentage of students scoring proficient increased from 54 percent to 88 percent.


Nationwide, rural turnaround schools often face additional challenges due to their remote locations, according to a 2014 report. Rural schools were found to struggle more with teacher recruitment and retention due to long commutes and isolated communities, as well as a lack of parental involvement, due to limited transportation options.


Rural schools also often struggle to increase technology and bandwidth. An estimated 70 percent of schools lack a high-speed Internet connection and a disproportionate number of those schools are in poor urban and rural communities, according to the Federal Communications Commission. A 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center found that only 62 percent of rural adults have broadband at home, compared to 73 percent of suburban adults and 70 percent of urban adults. Many rural districts have struggled to upgrade technology, Internet, and bandwidth requirements in the midst of budget cuts and shrinking enrollments. 


Despite the challenges, other rural schools have experienced success with technology. In Piedmont, Ala., the district has launched a one-to-one device program and also installed Internet over the entire town to "revive a community," according to superintendent Matt Akin. In rural Maryland, federal funding has helped the Garrett County district upgrade its broadband infrastructure. Teachers now use technology to video-conference with experts, receive feedback on lesson plans, and assign educational games. 

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