« States Get $40 Million in Stimulus Help | Main | On Oprah's List of Power Players: Michelle Rhee »

Urban Education Secretary in Rural Hamlet


It goes without saying that U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who spent his educational career in big-city settings, is not as attuned to the needs of rural districts as the needs of urban ones.

Duncan appeared at a town hall meeting with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (the former Democratic governor of Iowa), in the small town of Hamlet, N.C., which is near the South Carolina border, a good 90 minutes from the nearest big city of Charlotte, and two hours from Raleigh. (And I can say from my experience yesterday that there's also little on the drive between Raleigh and Hamlet, except for an almost ghost-of-a-racetrack in Rockingham where NASCAR drivers once raced.)

When someone at the forum asked about housing issues facing rural educators, Duncan said he was talking to the Housing and Urban Development agency about what can be done. To which Vilsack amusingly chided his peer that HUD is for urban housing, and that his ag department could actually be a resource for rural housing issues. And the ag secretary also talked about how the promise of broadband Internet access in rural areas can make people feel more connected.

Asked about the challenge in finding good principals for rural schools, Duncan replied that the issue of recruiting and retaining good leaders is not "unique to rural communities."

But certainly the context is different. School leaders I spoke with from Richmond County Schools, in Hamlet, talked about the difficulty in getting young promising leaders to move to, and stay in, such rural, out-the-way places. (There isn't even a movie theater in Hamlet, for example.)

And another hot-button education reform issue that Duncan has championed—charter schools—also wouldn't likely flourish, either, in somewhat remote places where there isn't a big concentration of students, rural educators say. (No one asked about charter schools during yesterday's town hall; however, one man did ask about vouchers—to which Duncan talked up charter schools instead.)

I'm told that Duncan's staff is trying to figure out how to ensure that the rural perspective factors into their policymaking. What's still unclear is whether contextual factors, such as the rural or urban character of a state, will factor into that all-important $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition.

(Photo: Sen. Richard Burr, left, R-NC, U.S. Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack, third from left, and Congressman Larry Kissell, right, 8th District NC, listen to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan speak on Aug. 17, during a rural community forum held on the campus of Richmond Community College in Hamlet, N.C.)


Our children are more than test scores and funding. North Carolina legislators recently DUMPED LEGISLATION TO ALLOW PARENTS A SAY IN PHYSICAL/CORPORAL PUNISHMENT OF THEIR CHILDREN AT SCHOOL! 20 STATES STILL ALLOW CORPORAL PUNISHMENT IN SCHOOLS, and, earlier this week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that almost a fifth of students struck by teachers suffer from disabilities. Teachers legally can spank an autistic students whom they feel are acting out of turn. To receive federal funds, states should be required once and for all to ban school corporal punishment. After all, beating prisoners is illegal. Beating school children should be, too. In late July, Education Secretary Arne Duncan sent a letter to state school chiefs asking that they review their "seclusion and restraint techniques" used on students to ensure that they are not "abusive and potentially deadly." That's a fine gesture, but there has been no such letter regarding corporal punishment sent out since the HRW report was released, nor is there any mention of abuse in RTTT criteria. Pushing for anything less than an outright ban on all forms of classroom abuse reveals a gap in the administration's professed commitment to making schools better, safer, and stronger.

Isn't Hamlet, North Carolina the town that produced John Coltrane? People who are raised, educated, and spend their professional lives in cities need to understand their connections with rural areas, particularly in the context of education - a learning objective for which no curricula has yet been well completed. The level of genius and the facts of rural life (no movie theatre) that can, jointly, result in improved urban life (is there any other criterion?) constitute the rare glimpses that shake city dwellers out of a self-imposed myopia. Arne, of course, has much to learn. Thanks to Louise B. Vann, by the way, of Hickory Grove School, the 4th grade teacher whose influence helped me finish high school, go on to college, and learn about city types (Berkeley, Boston, New York).

Comments are now closed for this post.

Follow This Blog


Most Viewed on Education Week



Recent Comments