Last month, we were happy to kickstart our PCTELA Advocacy Spotlight Series, which will provide our membership with monthly articles featuring trending issues related to teacher advocacy. In May, our focus was on the newly reauthorized Every Student Succeeds Act and its implications for the 2016-2017 school year. For the month of June, our focus will be on another one of the Obama Administration’s plans to reform education from the national level.
This month’s advocacy spotlight is on the ConnectED Initiative.
A Brief Overview
In June 2013, President Obama announced the ConnectED Initiative; a five-year plan to provide 99% of American students with the broadband and wireless connection necessary to enrich their academic experiences and equip them with the technological proficiency necessary to succeed in the digital age. This initiative promises to provide teachers with the training and professional development they need to incorporate new technology and rich digital content into classroom instruction. With ConnectED, the Obama Administration extended the opportunity for school districts to become advocates for students and communities who suffer from a lack of technological resources.
To see the video of President Obama’s announcement of the ConnectED Initiative and remarks on the importance of technology in American schools, click here.
The Digital Divide
According to a survey administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2013, about 80% of schools and libraries reported that they found their internet connection insufficient in meeting their educational needs. The Obama Administration has found that the digital divide permeates throughout both school districts and individual households, with the benefits of technology being unevenly distributed across the nation. Students who come from households with higher levels of income and/or parent education are far more likely to have home internet connection than other students. Household location and race are also key factors in the likelihood of students having access to the internet at home. (For statistics of these findings and more information about the digital divide, please click here.)
A Call to Action
Obama called on both the private sector and the FCC to address this technological deficit by reallocating funding and support to provide the much needed high-speed internet availability to communities across America. The FCC Commissioner supported the ConnectED Initiative completely, leading the FCC to reform its E-rate program in 2014. A new modernization order was authorized, allowing for an increase in funding and maximizing options for academic entities seeking to secure high-speed broadband, regardless of location or socioeconomic status. In the last few years, federal government investments into this initiative have led to massive upgrades in network infrastructure, and the Obama Administration has broken ground in its commitments to preparing teachers, students, and families for success with these technological advancements.
Efforts of the Obama Administration
The Obama Administration is leading a three-pronged effort in closing the digital divide in our country: to provide internet access to as many households as possible, to improve technological support in schools and libraries, and to prepare teachers to incorporate technology effectively in the classroom.
Students who do not have internet access at home are reported to perform worse on standardized tests and to have more difficulty finding jobs than their peers. In an effort to give students home access to internet assignments and online classes, and to provide more opportunities for independent research, the Obama Administration announced the ConnectHome plan. This plan will attempt to provide high-speed broadband to families across the country, and its pilot program will reach 275,000 low-income households and about 200,000 children.
ConnectED’s public and private commitments have to date provided about 3 million students across all 50 states with new educational tools produced by high-speed internet connections in schools. Over 30 major cities and counties have announced that they will participate in the Library Challenge, a plan Obama announced last April. This plan encourages libraries to work together with local officials and school leaders in order to provide all students with a library card and access to programming that supports their technological learning needs.
The Enhancing Education Through Technology Program enables more school districts to provide professional development as teachers transition to enhanced access to technology in the classroom. The U.S. Department of Education has released guidelines on how school administration can leverage existing federal funds to support teacher training and curriculum development during this time. ConnectED sponsors interactive demonstrations for teachers who opt to participate in professional collaboration, and it allows teachers to engage in meaningful conversation with other educators worldwide. ConnectED also fosters relationships with multiple private sectors to strengthen the presence of digital resources in the classroom.
How can you and your school district get involved?
The Future Ready pledge was created to provide accountability for superintendents who commit to foster a culture of digital learning in their district. By signing the pledge, superintendents are publicly demonstrating their intent to collaborate with district stakeholders, empower teachers, and mentor superintendents from other districts in their transition to digital learning.
This summer, there will be a number of Future Ready Summits held around the country for district teams to brainstorm and plan out their visions for digital learning in their schools this year. There will be workshops, discussions, and exemplars led by experts to foster conversation about technological growth in each school district.
If you are a superintendent, you can sign the pledge today! If you are not a superintendent, you can encourage your school administration to become involved. The District Assessment is a free planning tool that can provide valuable insight and opportunities for your district on how to integrate technology into effective instruction. You can also create a team and register for free to attend any of the summits planned for this summer. And lastly, you can sign up for updates from the White House regarding future progress made by the Obama Administration to connect America.
In the digital world we live in, it is up to educators and school administration to advocate for the technological advancements and support needed to create the next generation of technologically responsible, digitally literate, and well-rounded Americans.
Written by: Christie Stelljes