Distance Learning in Rural Settings

The term “distance learning” describes the process of connecting learners to remote educational resources. Distance learning uses such communication technologies as teleconferencing, videoconferencing, satellite broadcast, and computer-based training (including DVDs and the Internet) to enhance an organization’s instructional strategies and to allow the strategies to reach a broader audience with more flexibility.

From Why Rural Matters comes the following policy recommendation:

Distance learning is one strategy that has proven to be effective in ensuring that schools and districts are able to provide rich curricula without restructuring and uprooting students and communities. If rural schools and communities are to take advantage of the benefits offered by technology, they must have financial and policy assistance in developing and maintaining the kind of technology infrastructure, interlocal cooperation, and program coordination that will support the use of distance learning among clusters of rural schools.”

Other nuggets can be found therein on what needs to happen to ensure that rural communities are able to take the best advantage of online learning opportunities. Worth a gander for those interested in the intersection of rural education and technology.

Distance learning in rural Alabama

Another case of distance learning taking the edge of the digital divide – two rural high schools in one county in Alabama will soon have access to many of the resources at the larger urban school.

“We will be able to offer high school courses such as our advance (sic) placement classes that might not be offered at our smaller schools,” he said. “We plan to broadcast our AP calculus, biology and chemistry classes, among others.”

Matthew Shell, the system’s technology coordinator, said each school or auxiliary property will have a receiver up to 140 feet in height. The schools will have classrooms wired with technology that allows a teacher in Greenville High School to see and hear students in Georgiana and McKenzie.

This comes about due to new technology to be installed at the system’s school properties and auxiliary buildings. Through this program, learning for Butler County’s students will defy time and space. Students in the county’s two southern high schools will have the same benefit of the wide range of classes that Greenville High School now has.

Using Technology to Keep Kids in School

All over the country, individual teachers and teams of researchers are finding that technology can help keep students in school, even those who seem least likely to succeed. For example, a seven-year longitudinal study by the CUNY Graduate School in New York followed a group of low-performing fifth-graders through their school careers—students who were reading at 25–50 percent of grade level at the outset. Given computers with telecommunication connections at home and at school, these students achieved a higher high-school graduation rate than the rest of the students in the district.

An article in today’s NY Times online does a good job of presenting both sides of the story of a small rural school district that expanded through online learning. In Branson, Colorado, 65 students are physically present in the school building, but another 1000+ join in classes online. The online school began as a way to offer computerized courses to students (such as Calculus) for which the district did not have enough qualified teachers. Within four years, attendance grew from 25 students to over 1000.

Reducing Costs and Maximizing Resources in Education

The dilemma of increasing enrollments combined with budget cuts can be eased by technology per a recent white paper released by the Center for Digital Education entitled:

Rethinking Processes, Reducing Costs, and Maximizing Resources in Education.

The paper indicates that technology supporting new processes will assist university and school system administrators to focus on opportunities to eliminate inefficiencies, identify innovative cost savings, and reinvest those savings into core objectives.

Accomplishing an institution or system’s core objectives when supported by technology is discussed using the following five methods: strategic sourcing, streamlining, shared service strategies, outsourcing, and enterprise energy management. A list of institutions highlighted in the report include:

  • New York City Dept. of Education,
  • University of Texas-Austin
  • University of Ulster, Northern Ireland
  • South Carolina Dept. of Education
  • Nippersink School Dist.2 in Illinois
  • Detroit Public Schools, TAFE, Queensland
  • University of California-Santa Barbara
  • Beaverton Oregon School Dist.

Review the entire white paper.

Using Technology In The High School Classroom

With high school teachers facing more pressure than ever to prepare their students for the all-important state standardized exams, AP exams, and college admissions exams, what role does technology have in preparing students for these all-important tests? Or does the current system force issues the other way – the packed programs necessary to ready kids for standardized exams pushing teachers away from implementing new technology in the classroom?

After all, there is always a learning curve when it comes to applying new technologies, would a teacher who takes the time to implement a laptop program in their course pay the consequences when it comes exam time if the new time taken to implement the technology costs valuable cramming/prep time?

Unfortunately, many overworked high school teachers view technology as a tack-on to an already chock-full curriculum, rather than as an essential part of learning. Can you necessarily blame them? Without implementation from the top-down, technology in the classroom will always lag behind the real-world implementation.

The Importance Of Computer Literacy

With the prevalence of computers in today’s society, what responsibility does the education system have for ensuring that kids are not only computer literate, but proficient in the use of software and technology? Should a basic level of computer proficiency, or even computer programming ability be mandatory study? Much like math, or science, or social studies?

How To Implement Technology In The Classroom

At any level of the K-12 education system, a common issue with the implementation of new technology in the classroom is that teachers continue to give their lectures, assignments, and tests the same way they have in the past, except where technology offers an obvious and convenient role. For example, projectors might be used for presentation, or students may use their laptops in the classroom for note-taking. But surely, technology can be better implemented in the curriculum with better top-down instruction?

These are the questions that will be discussed and addressed through this blog. There may be no such thing as a perfect solution, but discourse is the first step towards progress.

Teens, Technology, and School (Pew Internet)

This data memo from the Pew Internet & American Life Project digs into their recent teen internet use survey and is rife with implications for schools. Among the key findings:

  • 68% of all teen (youth between the ages of 12 and 17) have used the internet at school;
  • This means that 32% of teens do NOT USE THE INTERNET AT SCHOOL, despite the fact that all schools are connected to the internet.
  • Of all online teens (i.e., 87% of all teens who go online from any setting), 18% go online at school most often;
  • Less than 1% of online teens who go online at school say that school is their only means of access and just 13% of teens who go online at school do not also have access at home;
  • Income only explains part of the reason teens do not go online at school (or at all). Fully 31% of those who do not go online at school live in a household with an income of $75,000 or greater. (Gee, could be that leadership and vision is an issue…)
  • Teens and parents largely agree that the internet helps teens do better in school (88 and 83% respectively);
  • Teens use the internet to cheat on schoolwork – more so than their parents realize – but, hey, let’s recall two things before we pick up this drumbeat: the internet did not invent cheating (I’ll admit to copying passages verbatim from the World Book oh so many years ago) and, of course, parents think it is going on less than kids say it is…please. New responses from teachers and schools are needed and also – take heed – are enabled by the internet.
  • Of those teens who IM, 78% use IM to talk about homework, tests, or schoolwork – esp. teens with broadband access at home.
  • 57% of online teens have to use the internet to look up info on a college, university, or another school they are thinking of attending.

This is fantastic work and a great public service to have this information. Having said that, what we need is more and regular work like this if we are truly to understand the vast changes underway and the opportunities we are being afforded. Kudos to Lee Rainie, Amanda Lenhart, and all the other crack staff at PIP.

Would that the federal government pick up this line of inquiry, recasting their regular school internet access survey which has long ago run its course.

Transforming Leadership Practice and Schools

Connect Lead Succeed partners with districts, Charter Management Organizations and other education organizations to develop and empower leaders to effectively execute school-wide transformational change and drive higher student achievement gains.  In partnership, we launch high-functioning professional learning networks for school leaders.

CLS professional learning networks provide 40 hours of rigorous, ongoing leadership development. Once a month, for ten consecutive months, leaders, leave the isolation of their schools, to join with 12-18 of their peers in a four- hour community of practice where they deep dive into actionable strategies for improving academic results.

CLS professional learning networks are distinguished by five key components:

1. Student Achievement Goal and Strategy

At the outset of the formation of a professional learning network, leaders hone their aspirations for school-wide student achievement gains by identifying a single student achievement goal and a strategy for attaining that goal.

2. Learning Focus: School Transformation

Learning is focused on the five leadership domains that research has identified as being most effective in improving school and student performance using CLS’ Design for Leading Framework.

3. Inquiry to Solve Problems of Practice 

Connect Lead Succeed professional learning networks function as a form of action-research to allow leaders to continually question, reevaluate, refine and improve thier leadership knowledge and practice. Leaders engage in inquiry-based learning and reflection in a safe, practice rich environment. Problems of practice are discussed and resolved using peer collaboration and coaching to foster professional growth.

4. Capacity Building

Professional learning networks build the capacity of leaders to facilitate high-functioning professional learning communities in their schools. Leaders gain experience of and access to new protocols, tools and resources for facilitating collaborative learning and for building instructional and teacher leadership. As school leaders become better at promoting leadership across their sites, leadership capacity grows school- and district-wide.

5. A High-Functioning Learning Environment 

oSkilled educators trained to facilitate inquiry-based, leadership development and, communities of practice lead SLN professional learning networks. Rigorous facilitation ensures the kind of intentionality, planning and in-the-moment changes that are essnetial to a high-quality network learning experience. Regular surveys of participants ensure individual learning nees are being met and drive data-driven continuous improvements.

Learn more about the Connect Lead Succeed network learning experience.


Impact data shows that schools led by leaders who participate in a CLS professional learning network achieve substantial gains in student achievement. Increased student learning is a result of:

  • Stronger school leadership
  • Increased instructional and teacher leadership
  • Enhanced school cultures
  • Higher school performance
  • Improved principal retention

Participation in an CLS professional learning network increases the effectiveness, efficacy and tenacity of school leaders to advance instructional and teacher leadership, school performance and academic achievement.

Blue-Ribbon Schools and Public Responds to Churn

“Churn: The High Cost of Principal Turnover” was the central topic for discussion at a convening of principals from National Blue Ribbon Schools   headed by Jill Levine at the U.S. Department of Education. According to principals there, the central office serves as a major barrier to effective principal work, a problem that must be mediated. #nbrs2019.

In public response to our social media campaign, our followers comment:

“I love all the information you share. I have had 6 different principals over my career and 3 were in the first 5 years. I do see a connection with what you are saying and important impacts that made with longevity of principals.” (Teacher, Washington State)

“It’s time to recognize the complexity and intensity of the jobs of both teachers and school administrators and provide the support and resources necessary for them to excel and thrive in what they do (rather than slowly unravel from the stress) and thus be willing to stay as a result.” (Former principal, LAUSD)

“[Churn] Brings up valid points including the necessity of strong leadership that is over an extended period of time in order for a school to be effective.” (Teacher, LAUSD)

“School communities and district administrators need to listen carefully to Mariah Cone and the results of her study.” (Teacher Leader in Principal Credential Program, California).

“Need to think about ongoing systemic support for principals. Coaching & mentorship should be continuous thru a principals career.” (Associate Director, NASSP)

The Pipeline and Beyond

I was fortunate to attend the Alliance to Reform Education Leadership’s (AREL) annual convening this past Tuesday and Wednesday in Dallas, Texas. The purpose of the event was to bring smart, determined education reformers together to collaborate on exemplary principal leadership development programs. I left more convinced than ever that improving the school principal is essential if we want to make education better for all children. I felt hopeful that the AREL Network of principal preparation programs is achieving transformative outcomes at schools around the country through their critical work. I also felt like a part of the story was missing.

I wondered why, by and large, we invest in principals almost exclusively at the beginning of their careers? What happens to them after they graduate from these and other preparation programs? Is preparation enough?

The sad truth is that more than one in every five principals leave their schools each year, with annual turnover rates as high as 30% in some districts. In Charters, 70% of principals don’t stay on beyond year five. And turnover hurts schools and students. Furthermore, there are nearly 100,000 acting principals across the nation, only a fraction have graduated from great, well funded programs, like the ones I learned from at the AREL convening. In one study, 59% of prinicpals reported they would do a better job if they had relevant professional development.

School Leaders Network has a unique solution to both realities; provide principals meaningful ongoing professional development using the most affordable and available resource around – well-facilitated networks of principals.

Our results confirm this, as nationally, 98% of School Leaders Network leaders report their Network learning met important needs, and 97% report taking action on new learning, which is leading them to be better leaders. Only 1% of SLN members reported plans to leave leadership and 6% were unsure about their future career decisions; that’s a 77% improvement over typical turnover figures.

If the solution to such a significant problem is present, documented, and showing these results year after year – isn’t now the time for us to rethink what we’re doing and invest in principals long term? After all, they’re leading our children’s school today.

Charter Principal Churn

Principal Churn at Charters is particularly damning. In one report 71% of Charter leader respondents did not intend to lead their campus beyond the next five years. In a discussion posted by EdWize,

  1. “Many charter schools are still led by their original founders, and when they leave, the transition can be tricky.
  2. Charter schools are often starting from scratch when it comes to finding a leader’s replacement.
  3. Many charter schools are in denial when it comes to leadership turnover — half have no transition plan.”

And according to Larry Cuban:

“These founders and their successors have complicated tasks in mobilizing political and economic support for the mission of the charter school, establishing a separate facility or one within a regular public school, dealing with the governing board, negotiating constantly with district officials who provide funding, and a score of other leadership tasks including managing efficiently a new school and supervising teachers. In short, charter school principals are closer to being superintendents in overall responsibilities, albeit only for one school, than a traditional principal in regular schools.”

In a report by the New York Charter School Center revealed in 2012 that one in five charter leaders leave their school each year. Not coincidentally – teacher turnover is also twice the average of the district, with one-third leaving turning over each year.

Cities Struggle with Principal Retention

According to a GFBrandenburg – the District of Columbia has a major problem of principal churn. According to Brandenburg’s research a full 64.6% of DC principals were in their first three years of the principalship. New figures cited in a live Making the Grade report on KPFW in DC, identified that this year principals for 19% of DCPS schools were newly hired, a figure that is more than twice the national average for principal hires. Brandenburg titles his piece: Teacher and Administrative Churn – It’s not a Bug, It’s a Feature of Education Deform in DC and Elsewhere. Sadly the School Leaders Network has found that it is a trend that must be addressed to prevent continuing and dire consequences for school children nationally.

Other cities with major principal retention issues include Charlotte-Mecklenburg, where principals were hired for more than a quarter of their schools this year, more than triple that national average.

Denver has revolving door problems in specific schools, Colorado’s Chalkbeat found that 34 of their 185 schools had three or more principals since 2010. These schools serve the highest needs students. The consequences of this rate of turnover are drops in student achievement, instable school cultures, and higher rates of teacher turnover.