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Arne Duncan Tour of Ohio, Kentucky Highlights Rural Ed. Issues

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is taking time in both Ohio and Kentucky this week to highlight the plight of rural schools, and he said Thursday rural students need more access to technology and college.

On Thursday, Duncan spoke to the Rural Education National Forum, which was hosted by Battelle for Kids and the Ohio Department of Education, and he led a town hall meeting at a school that received a federal School Improvement Grant.

Duncan also planned to speak to the FFA (formerly Future Farmers of America) national convention and discuss the unique needs of students in rural areas. He is scheduled to visit a rural Promise Neighborhood school and host a roundtable with the Berea Promise Neighborhood community, which was the country's first rural Promise Neighborhood grant recipient. He'll wrap up the day by focusing on Save the Children's Early Steps to School Success program and the challenges of early-childhood education in Appalachia.

A story in The Columbus Dispatch on Duncan's visit to Ohio highlighted the president's ConnectED plan, which would link 99 percent of students to broadband Internet service during the next five years. Many rural areas lack adequate access to broadband, and Duncan emphasized the opportunities and resources that the Internet could provide, such as Advanced Placement and college-level classes.

"Technology is a hugely important tool to increase equity and to drive excellence to the top level, but I worry about the digital divide," Duncan said, according to the story. "This chance to provide universal broadband access ... is a big, big deal."

Duncan also encouraged districts to reconsider their reliance on textbooks and move to online materials, saying the country spends billions on books that are essentially obsolete by the time they arrive in schools.

It was an interesting perspective, especially given the criticism that a proposal to do exactly that in Alabama has drawn from rural advocates.

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