Affirming in its 2015 Education Policy Platform that “[a] quality literacy education is a civil right”, NCTE declared it support[s] dedicated funding streams in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and/or the Higher Education Act (HEA). These funds should
“make accessible educational technology that ensures all students have access to appropriate tools, to adequate bandwidth for accessing and creating resources, and to learning practices that make effective use of these technologies as they develop powerful multimedia literacies.”
Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) filed an amendment (Title V, Amendment 1), co-sponsored with Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), that would create a grant program called I-Tech to encourage “state educational agencies, local educational agencies, and schools to utilize technology to improve student achievement and college and career readiness, the skills of teachers and school leaders, and the efficiency and productivity of education systems at all levels.” The amendment passed in committee and is now headed to the Senate floor.
Unlike other federal programs that support technology in schools, a full 50% of I-Tech grant funding has been designated for professional development. There is strong consensus within the educational technology community, supported by research, that professional development is at least as important as infrastructure, devices, and digital content. Recently released frameworks and tools to help districts become “future ready” through the integration of technology into teaching and learning developed by the Alliance for Excellent Education, ISTE, and the US Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology with the American Institutes for Research all include professional learning as an essential component.
Of equal interest to NCTE members is the equity aspect of this effort–making sure that all students have access to technology, not only the hardware but the broadband necessary to connect. According to NASBE’s News & Notes in the May issue of the State Education Standard, “three out of five US schools lack Wi-Fi wiring, [and] at least half of all schools cannot carry data at broadband speeds.” The article notes an FCC report that found “a significant digital divide remains between rural and urban areas.” Recent changes to the E-Rate, a major source of technology funding for school districts, are helping to address that challenge. Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the FCC, wrote in the official FCC blog that these changes will “fully fund eligible Wi-Fi applications thanks entirely to fiscal and programmatic reforms that freed up more than $1.5 billion for Wi-Fi. Not an additional dime in ratepayer fees will be needed.” In addition, many cable providers are now offering low-cost broadband access to low-income families in conjunction with the White House’s ConnectED initiative and as a requirement of recent mergers of telecommunications companies.
Teachers who strongly believe that the I-Tech grant program should remain in ESEA should feel free to write, call, or meet with their senators to support it when it is introduced on the floor, possibly in June.
I would like to thank and to acknowledge that Darren Cambridge, NCTE Director, Policy Research and Development, co-authored this piece.