Home > Uncategorized > The Case for Broadband for ALL – Part 3 The Federal Role

The Case for Broadband for ALL – Part 3 The Federal Role

January 11, 2016

Over the past two days I’ve outlined the case for providing broadband for ALL children in the country, particularly those born into poverty. In both of the articles the writers made the case that internet access was vital to the learning opportunities for students and the job opportunities for parents and the community at large. And both of the articles described how government funding was essential to providing the infrastructure to deliver that service.

Last week Education Week writers Benjamin Herold and Leo Doran wrote an article providing an overview of the Fifth National Technology Education Plan, which Joseph South, the deputy director of the department’s office of educational technology, described as “…a vision for the country of what ed tech could be in our classrooms if it’s implemented in the way we think is best“.

The elements of the plan are far reaching but, as Herold and Doran note, will require “tough choices”. In a sidebar to the article, Herold summarizes the five prongs to the plan:


Technology can support “engaging and empowering learning experiences in both formal and informal settings,” the NETP says. Especially important are “personalized” learning opportunities optimized to meet the needs and preferences of each child; choice for students over what, when, and how they learn; and a focus on “non-cognitive competencies,” such as persistence. Games, simulations, and 3-D imaging software are emerging technologies to watch, the plan contends, and schools should focus on using technology to provide “active” learning experiences such as computer programming and media creation.


“Effective use of technology is not an optional add-on or a skill that we simply can expect teachers to pick up once they get into the classroom,” so teacher preparation and professional development around effective technology use must improve, the NETP argues. Federal officials hope to support teachers in collaborating via online communities and in taking leadership roles in their own schools around the effective use of ed tech. One key recommendation: developing a “teaching force skilled in online and blended instruction.”


Responsibility for articulating and implementing a strong vision for using technology in schools cannot be delegated, the NETP says. Through its Future Ready initiative, the U.S. Education Department is supporting superintendents in collaborating with each other and key local stakeholders, providing the resources and guidance needed to implement personalized learning models, and ensuring school access to adequate technology infrastructure.


The NETP calls for the use of technology to “imagine and redefine assessment in a variety of ways,” including more unobtrusive measurement of students as they learn; greater focus on assessing complex skill sets, such as problem-solving ability; more real-time feedback for educators and students alike; and better dashboards to visualize assessment results and other data in more user-friendly ways.


“Reliable connectivity, like water and electricity, is foundational to creating an effective learning environment,” the NETP says. Reform of the federal E-rate program should help in school; now department officials hope to see similar efforts to improve access at home. One area that some ed-tech experts would have liked to see addressed in greater depth: interoperability issues, so that information from the various software programs used by districts can be merged more easily.

These do not appear to be “tough choices” to make: they read like the essential needs for school districts across the country. But because the Federal government’s mechanism for funding these initiatives is ESSA, school districts will be forced to choose between technology and other desperately needed programs. Some legislative history:

As recently as this past summer, ed-tech advocates hoped that a new federal education law would include an amendment known as I-TECH, which would have meant dedicated funding for schools to address the issue of teacher education around technology use.

Although the U.S. Senate approved the amendment, it did not make it into the Every Student Succeeds Act ultimately signed by President Barack Obama. Instead of dedicated technology funding, states and districts will receive block grants that may be spent on a broad array of needs, ranging from arts programs to Advanced Placement classes to suicide-prevention efforts.

Federal legislators love block grants because they can claim they have provided sufficient money for technology, arts, AP courses, suicide prevention, and so forth knowing full well that the money they have provided can only be spent once and, thus, can only serve one purpose well in the end.

Herold and Doran note that ESSA’s funding mechanism— funneling money through States— will not close the digital divide:

One concern is that the gap between technologically savvy states and districts and the rest of the country could grow even more pronounced. Those (States) who have articulated a strong vision for how digital tools and content should be used have developed the capacity to turn those plans into reality, and should be able to find ways to further incorporate the tenets of the new National Education Technology Plan. Others, however, might struggle.

Until the Federal government addresses the infrastructure issue the states won’t be the one’s struggling the hardest: it will be those in poverty who will struggle even more to break the vicious cycle of poverty.

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