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tv   The Communicators Rural Education Online Learning  CSPAN  January 2, 2021 6:29pm-7:00pm EST

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>> joining us this week on "the communicators" is allen pratt. he is the executive director of the national rural education association. he joins us from chattanooga, tennessee. mr. pratt, what is that association and what do you do? >> our association is the voice of rural schools and rural communities across the country. thank you for the invite to be on the show and really highlight what we do as an organization. one of the things we do is we advocate for all areas, all issues that involve rural schools and communities. we are looking at a digital divide. we are looking at reopening schools in a very different way. that's what a lot of our work has been focused on the last five months. >> when you look at online availability for education, where do you see the deficits? >> yeah, i think home access is
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the biggest deficit in rural, remote areas or areas outside of urban, suburban areas. we have connectivity issues with cell phones and wired access as well. we have affordability issues. we are looking at the lack of access and affordability of the surface. >> how many students are we talking about? >> overall, you know, rural represents about 9.7 million students. but you are looking probably anywhere from 1.4 million to 2.8 million. those numbers very by different organizations. the fcc reports out about 2.6 million. roughly, 2-3 million students. >> what kind of policies are you advocating for? >> obviously, we have really
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shifted into the sense of anything to do with connectivity issues, and the flexibility say from either a funding across-the-board to allowing some home access or home subsidies to allow the affordability or connection issues. those are the big part. anything to do with education funding. our work has been around cares act funding. we hope the next round of funding that will come through, either in d.c., the senate and the house can get together and kind of work something out. >> well, let's bring alyson klein into this conversation. she is with the publication "education week." ms. klein, your turn. >> thank you so much for joining us today. what kind of solutions have rural schools found within the broadband challenge? how well are they working? i am sure we have all seen stories about how kids might be gathered around a bus with wi-fi or in
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the parking lot of a local fast food restaurant. is that something that your districts are experimenting with? >> yes, that's a great point. i think the parking lot of the school or the parking lot of a library or a restaurant area is really one of the areas how schools are helping and how communities are helping. we did have some flexibility that allowed access. there is other innovative solutions that communities are coming up with. one in virginia is the wireless on wheels. they are creating -- i think they have 22 wireless -- solar wireless hotspots for students to connect. it will connect up to five devices. i think there has been innovation across-the-board, on how they send out their feeding program, but also connecting students with usb or hotspots. they are just finding a way to make it work.
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>> there has been a lot of talk about problems for students in accessing internet connectivity. that is probably a problem for a lot of teachers, too. so, how our rural districts coping with that? >> a lot of the districts we talked to are using cares act money to provide that service for teachers who are going to be instructing at home in a virtual setting. they are actually using money to help pay for services, either by either hotspot or wired, fixed broadband connectivity. >> many urban and large suburban school district have had a really tough time coming up with curriculum for students. it's all online and they had to do it quickly over the summer. how are rural districts, which typically have smaller staff and maybe resources, handling that challenge? >> if anybody says that education cannot shift rapidly, we saw that with the pandemic in march. i think it has forced districts to look at their curriculum and education kind of
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system. and a lot of state governments or state departments of ed have a curriculum or set of standards that a school must cover to educate in public schools. and a lot of districts are shifting to a learning management system that is kind of a hybrid that they can do in person or video instruction, either asynchronously or synchronously. obviously, there is an adjustment and professional development aspect on training teachers how to be successful in the virtual classroom. a lot of them are buying some kind of frontloaded or preloaded that meet the same standards by a company or uploading through google classroom or the use of zoom and learning management platforms that they are using. it is a wide variety of what is going on at different schools. >> that makes sense. >> allen pratt, before we go any
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further, what is your background in education? >> i have been in education for 25 years, and was a former principal, cte teacher. i worked with the state department in tennessee and have been with the national rural education association for the past four years. we are on the university of tennessee in chattanooga at the school of education. a new graduate teaching there as well, as well as running the national organization. >> has there been thought bringing children in in a socially distanced way into the classroom and having the teacher remote, especially for students who have trouble with connectivity? >> yes, you are seeing all different types of hybrid or kind of phase-in approaches. just locally in chattanooga and outlying districts, the teacher has been in contact with someone, so they are quarantined 14 days, and the teacher is actually zooming into the
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classroom. there is a teacher assistant or another employee from the school system in the room to monitor while that is going on. we see that on the students staying home. we also see the teachers staying at home in a virtual setting. both have been kind of used effectively. >> they have been successful? >> yes. i think we are working through. i mean, i think tennessee may have had one of the first school systems to start back on july 22. they've used a phase-in, or a hybrid, 25% attendance and they are working up to 100% right now. those things are going on as we speak. excuse me one second. i think that is the process that, you know, we are working through. i also look at it from a sense of, i think you look at the more rural remote, i think you are seeing a push for a face to face in more of a traditional five-day as opposed to more of an urban or suburban area. those are kinds of the aspects that
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are really unique. districts are dealing with this in a different way. >> alyson klein. >> sure. so there has been worries about a coming teacher shortage, because many educators have concerneds about jeopardizing their health. is that something that rural districts are grappling with? >> yes. before the pandemic, we were also pushing for a rural teacher shortage, as far as the help to alleviate the rural teacher shortage. we have actually partnered with a collaborative called rural schools collaborative to push, i am a rural teacher on facebook and social media. since the pandemic, we have highlighted stories of teachers interacting or being innovative in their practices to reach students. you are correct, we have a lot of teachers that are choosing to opt out in a sense of, they want
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to be virtual and stay-at-home, simply because they may have underlying health conditions that covid may have an impact on their lives. >> what kind of professional development are school districts offering for teachers who may have never taught in a virtual setting before? >> i think the ramp up this summer has been on just how to be, you know, digital literacy, number one. actually using the device, the platform they will be using. how to be an instructor and facilitator on an online virtual environment, which in many cases, has been a total shift, five-month speed course on how to develop and be innovative and teach students in this platform. the one thing that is amazing, public school teachers are innovative, successful, they are hard-working, and the service above sale. they put the time and the work into do what they need to do.
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>> how are schools -- >> i just had one more question. how are school districts handling when a teacher or student test positive for the virus? are they closing schools? do they do contact tracing? >> it's a great question. they are using the local health departments to help with the process. they are looking at numbers or percentages. for the most case, if it is about 20% at a school, they will probably shut the school down for quarantine. if it's class by class, under 20%, they will do quarantines of those classrooms and those teachers, but they will not shut the whole entire system down, but they may shut the school down. you are right, it is a mitigation plan. i think that his been -- that has been the toughest part for superintendents and principals as they move through this phase.
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>> so, allen pratt, this is a public school problem, not a private school problem? >> you know, i can't -- we deal with public schools. i am ♪ [speaking foreign language] assuming private schools have the same issues. we do not currently have members that are private schools, simply because we are a majority, 99% of our districts are public school, so that's what we deal with. >> have you put a dollar figure on what you would like to see when it comes to connectivity? >> you know, we are pushing -- i know the heroes act that came out of the house side was i think $4 billion for the fcc to create some flexibility, but also for home subsidies for home internet connectivity. we are pushing along the same lines as everyone else for this, for help and connectivity. we also believe it's going to take federal, state, and regional and
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local help to kind of solve this. we also believe this is going to phase-in to what we look at on electricity and electrical co-ops and getting electricity to all parts of earlham america. the same approach -- rural america. the same approach is going to be needed to connect all schools and homes in rural america. >> this is a federal, state, local funding issue? >> i think it is across-the-board. it has got to be driven obviously by federal dollars to incentivize this movement to allow, you know, run the last mile or allow the connectivity to reach all areas of the country. it just makes us a stronger country when we are all connected. if you are looking for a bright spot, this has really highlighted the need for connectivity issues to be resolved. i really think coming out of this, it's going to really change the look and the
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dynamics of a lot of rural communities in a positive if we can get the connectivity issue resolved. >> you just happen to be in chattanooga, but chattanooga has been kind of a leader when it comes to connectivity, hasn't it? >> yeah. the electric power board in downtown chattanooga, i think we were one of the first cities to be a gig-city. they are spreading the connection to a lot of rural cooperatives. i think that has been a positive. the little community i live in, south pittsburgh, tennessee, we have a co-op now providing the broadband internet connectivity through our region. and a lot of
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that comes from usda federal dollars in grants, but also local money and state money. i think all three of those are in play when you look at some of these places been connected. the usda announced today $10 million to tennessee for rural connectivity. it came out this morning, so they had a press release. it is spreading across the state. >> joining us from north dakota is david crothers. he is the executive director of the national rural education association. -- he is the director of the broadband association of north dakota. north dakota has been a success
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story. >> it really has. pleasure joining you. north dakota, which is served almost overwhelmingly by locally owned providers, serves about 96% of the state. what we have in north dakota is a situation where those companies invest in themselves. they invest in their communities and infrastructure and the customers that those locally owned companies serve. in fact, mr. pratt just mentioned that chattanooga be the gig-community. north dakota has 300 rural gate communities. >> you have emphasized that the locally owned aspect of these private companies, is that correct? what is the importance of that? >> yes, really what they are are the telephone cooperatives, and
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a majority of the cases, and family-owned companies and a few small commercial companies, 16 in all, that have evolved into being state-of-the-art broadband providers. nobody is interested in voice right now. voice is just one of the applications that we use with broadband. so, these companies have evolved to meet the needs of the people that they serve. >> and so, what percentage of your 300 rural communities in north dakota are online at this point? >> virtually everyone has access to the service. when the pandemic hit in march and we were faced with connecting students in homes that did not have broadband service, we went to the state of north dakota. we found 116 thousand students in the state of north dakota, 72,000 of them were in those areas served by the locally owned providers. >> so, has the state chipped in money? if so, how much? >> the state has not shipped in money. they provided leadership in a number of other ways. north dakota is unique. i know some states have used cares money for
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it. when this began in march, all of the broadband providers signed on to the chairman's keeping americans connected pledge? we pledged we offered that pledged to offer free services to students through june 30 -- we pledged to offer free services to students urgent 30th -- through june 30. every school district is unique. right now, the stay of north dakota has not committed. there are several federal initiatives. we have received no dollars from the state of north dakota. >> well, we have alyson klein of "education week" with us as well. any questions for david crothers of north dakota? >> no, i think you covered everything really well. >> david crothers of the broadband association of north dakota, thank you for being with us.
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>> my pleasure. >> allen pratt, what did you hear from mr. crothers. -- ? >> they are ahead of the game in a lot of rural areas and across the state and whole country. we interviewed several superintendents in north dakota and also did a couple podcasts about the connectivity as march and april rolled in. dr. stephen johnson from lisbon public schools was one of our guests. he mentioned they were 96% covered during that time period, which if you looked at the numbers during that time, they were number one in the country with everyone being connected. we were really excited and hope other states pay attention and do the same work as north dakota. >> alyson klein? >> so, how has the pressure on state budgets because of the economic downturn, how is that impacting your schools? are they
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worried about that at all? are they looking ahead and seeing cuts? >> that's a great question. when you look at the recession of 2008-2009, i was a principal at the time, school systems and schools kind of function, they knew that the worst was going to come, so two or three years later. i think a lot of were taking the money coming from the federal and state dollars and using them wisely. year two, year three are going to be really impact years and could be tight on the budget locally, but also at the state level as well. that's a big concern. >> i can hear that. many districts, you mentioned, are still operating with in person instruction. we all know that rural districts have transportation challenges because their students are really spread out. how are they making sure to -- how are they making sure that students are appropriately socially distanced
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when they are on those buses? >> so, to kind of i guess repeat the question, how are they making sure that are the -- all the rural areas are connected, or the instruction going on in those rural schools? >> no, i was asking about busing and transportation. how are they making sure that if they are transporting kids to school, if they are doing in person instruction, that buses don't kinda become kind of a super spreader. >> that's a great point. i think you are looking at the phase-in. a lot of the face to face school districts did a 25% phase-in into 100%. they are co-hoarding students together -- cohorting students together. a lot of the bus drivers or school personnel are on the bus and taking temps before students actually board the bus. they are also taking
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temps when students go in the building. those are kind of the aspects and they are running more routes, in a sense of sometimes in double or doubling up those routes. they are trying to keep it where it is the same flow so they can keep their dollars and what they are spending on the transportation budget the same for this year and as they move into next year. i think the biggest part is that hybrid, kind of phase-in model. >> have you looked at the quality of online education and compared it to in class? >> you know, i think it goes back to what alyson asked about training teachers. i think the quality of the virtual classroom comes down to the setup of how we train teachers, how creative and how good a teacher really is to keep the students engaged. if
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you're are looking at an asynchronous set up, where students are learning at different times, different spaces, that is a different aspect. i think it comes down to what program you are using, what platform you are using to connect with students, but also, what they are doing with platform as they move forward. >> the head of the superintendents organization told me that district leaders are having to make some decisions about health care and disease spread. in his view, the federal government and even some states really have not put out much guidance. i am wondering, do district leaders like that flexibly, or they feel like there is too much pressure on them? i am assuming parents in every district want to see in person instruction and other parents who want to see online instruction. >> i would kind of reiterate that point. the superintendents are very cautious and very frustrated, and really worried about so much of the
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decision-making being placed on local leadership or local control. we understand that is an important part of public education, but you need guidance and you need help from the state level on the federal level. so, i think when they are preparing their plans or setting up the reopening, however it may be, things change so rapidly and they change hourly from the cdc or state health officials. i think that is difficult. local control is really being pushed to the forefront during this time. >> i can hear that. how do you think the coronavirus will change education over the long term? what do you think will still be sort of -- what will we still retain when this crisis is over? >> i think you look at in a sense of -- added in a sense of, one of the positives that will come out of this, i think we are learning now more than ever
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before that we don't have to be in school five days a week. it is good to be there, but i think there is programs or plans that can be very flexible. i think each region, each school, each area should be different, and should meet the needs of their community and their students. i think that flexibility is going to be important. i really believe that technology is really -- this has been a boon for the virtual or blended or hybrid approach. i think that will not leave, and i hope it doesn't, because i think it's such a great way to connect with our students, but also connected them with parts of the country that they are not familiar with if they are in a rural or remote area. i think that's the positives. i think superintendents and communities feel like we are going to go back to a five day a week and it's going to be exactly the same, i don't think that will be the case at all. i don't think we will ever be back to that, at least for right now. it will definitely change.
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>> allen pratt, what have you done to address security and privacy issues? >> you know, i think our school districts have really stepped up their approach on remote learning, security, but also with their cloud service and/or their private network or personalize networks that they are using with their district. it comes into play when you look at wi-fi buses. schools are putting wi-fi enabled equipment on them so sctudents can be connected. superintendents are talking about health care, i.t. security , areas where they have not been before, so i think it's a learning process for them as they move forward. >> alyson klein, time for one more question. >> sure. i have heard from some teachers that they are worried about students cheating in their classes since they are all online. it's really easy to look
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things up. is that something you are hearing from educators in rural areas as well? what are they doing about it? >> it's one of those kind of side effects or areas that kind of come out of this virtual, online learning. my daughter, we went to remote learning, she is in nursing school locally. on testing date, you had to use your phone as a video, and the computer as well, so you had two videos to watch that and monitor. i think districts are using those unique approaches. if we have a device like a phone, laptop, or tablet, they are using both to monitor that. i think that is kind of what they are trying to do at this point. it's a good point. because there are definitely going to be creative ways to find the answer. >> got you. yeah. >> it's going to be a little difficult for vocational ed to be difficult, isn't it? such as your daughter being a nursing student?
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>> you're going to have what i call a hybrid or phased in labs. i think that is what is going on with a lot of cte teachers. they are bringing in students one or two days a week to do the actual hands-on lab. that is going on at trade schools and the high school level as well. >> allen pratt as the executive director of the national rural education association. alyson klein is with the publication "education week," where she covers tech and education. thank you both for being on the "the communicators." you are watching c-span your unfiltered view of government. c-span was created by america's television companies in 1979. today, we are brought to you by these television companies who bring c-span2 viewers as a public service.
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>> monday night on the communicators, allen pratt the executive director of the national rural education association talks about how the coronavirus has affected rural schools. many are online, leading to connectivity issues for some students. >> the parking lot of a school or library or restaurant is one of the areas how schools are helping and communities are helping. we did have some flexibility and allow that even the buildings are closed that we could not provide access. there are innovative solutions that communities are coming up with. one in virginia is the wireless and -- wireless on wheels. 22 solarhey have wireless hotspots for students to connect and it will connect up to five devices. there has been innovation across the board on how they send out there feeding program and also
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how they are connecting students , they arer hotspots just finding a way to make it work. >> monday night at 8 p.m. eastern on the communicators on c-span2. ofon tuesday, the balance power in the senate will be decided by the winners of the georgia runoff. aredemocratic challengers jon ossoff and raphael warnock. hear from these candidates any final race of 2020 with live coverage on c-span and the free c-span radio app. ♪


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