By LYDIA HOLMES
For the Capital Press
We've heard the story time and again. America's schools are outdated and students are suffering from a lack of global opportunities because of it.
Speaking recently at Mooresville Middle School in Mooresville, N.C., President Barack Obama proposed an initiative called ConnectEd to counter this problem. The ConnectEd program is being developed with the goal of providing 99 percent of schools with broadband and updated technology in the next five years.
The program targets rural areas as well as any school that is below the Federal Communication Commission's technology standard. It takes existing funding from the Universal Service Fund -- an entity of the FCC -- and puts it toward connecting classrooms in order to level the playing field for students. With the new technology also comes training for teachers on how to use it in the most effective way possible.
This is great news for rural schools and communities. About three-fourths of people in rural areas don't have access to broadband speeds at or above the FCC's recommended level and some don't have access at all. The FCC recommends an access rate of between one and three megabits per second, but for an average family you generally need a rate from six to 15 megabits per second.
Bringing faster, updated technology into rural schools could mean the difference between being college ready or not for some students. Due to costly teacher training and tests, public school officials in small towns often must fight to keep an Advanced Placement program. Having a connected classroom means that rural students can take tele-classes from a larger school somewhere else; making AP and International Baccalaureate classes a possibility for the first time in some communities.
U.S. colleges are increasingly competitive, expecting students to have taken the most difficult classes; and showing excellence in literacy, math and science. Without this opportunity, being accepted to a prestigious college is not possible for many rural students.
Giving all students the same advantage, regardless of zip code, cannot only bring the United States up to speed with other countries educationally, but will also ensure that every community has the educated leaders and business people to enable them to keep expanding and thriving in any economy.
An overarching trend is that rural schools are not only in sparsely populated areas but also poor areas. As a result these areas not only have some of the lowest test scores and opportunities but also lack funding. A step up in technology means that funding is less of an issue. With many educational apps and programs that are free or available at a reduced cost for schools and the opportunity to use digital textbooks, students are always given the most recent information on a subject and not the outdated version that can be found in the textbooks left over from years past.
One school that has implemented the technology that this program is recommending is the Mooresville School District in Mooresville, S.C. This school is not only third best in test scores, but also ranks 100 out of 115 districts in the state on spending per student. In other words, the school is scoring higher on tests with less funding, something that was unimaginable before.
Lydia Holmes is a summer communications intern at the American Farm Bureau Federation.