Education groups applaud new ed-tech legislation

A new bill advocates for wider technology access and use in education.

Educational technology stakeholders are applauding the U.S. Senate’s introduction of a bill called the Achievement Through Technology and Innovation (ATTAIN) Act and note that, if passed, the legislation will work to bolster technology literacy and will increase access to educational opportunities through online learning.

“The ATTAIN Act recognizes that technology literacy is an essential skill our children need to be college and career ready and prepared to navigate and succeed in the competitive 21st-century environment,” said 11 leading education and ed-tech organizations in a joint statement.

The bill was introduced by Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. The measure directs federal funds to train teachers, purchase educational technology hardware and software, and support student technological literacy.  It authorizes up to $1 billion in annual funding for educational technology and teacher training nationwide.

The ed-tech groups said the bill will “foster the expansion of online and blended learning and promote technology initiatives that lead to personalized, rigorous, and relevant learning. The bill also will spur efforts to increase education productivity and reduce costs through the use of technology. By prioritizing funding to enhance technology integration, professional development, and leadership, the legislation supports school districts’ capacity to implement online Common Core assessments in 2014.”

The act would distribute funding based on the entire amount of funding available. If the appropriation is less than $300 million in a given year, the U.S. Department of Education would award competitive grants to consortia of state educational agencies to maximize the impact of available funds.

Those competitive grants would be awarded based on a number of priorities, including student advancement and graduation being based on learning outcomes instead of seat time, students having access to high-quality digital content and online courses without arbitrary enrollment caps, and whether teacher certification or licensure requires teachers to be technologically literate.

If available funding is more than $300 million, ATTAIN funds would be awarded to states based on student poverty rates.

The groups also urged lawmakers to consider the “meaningful infusion of technology throughout the reauthorization of the [Elementary and Secondary Education Act].”

The 11 education and ed-tech groups include the Alliance for Excellent Education, the American Association of School Administrators, the Association of Education Service Agencies, the Consortium for School Networking, the International Society for Technology in Education, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Education Association, the National Rural Education Association, the National Rural Education Advocacy Coalition, the Software & Information Industry Association, and the State Educational Technology Directors Association.

Also targeting technology knowledge, and aiming to update portions of ESEA, is the 21st-Century Readiness Act, introduced by Sens. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

The act aims to enhance the use of federal funds to help states and school districts better prepare students for college and career success, and it would accomplish those goals by ensuring that high-quality and relevant standards, assessments, and professional development programs are linked to the content and skills that today’s students need to succeed in the 21st century.

States would be able to use existing federal grants under ESEA to develop or expand 21st-century skills, college  and career readiness resources, and school dropout prevention programs.

The proposed legislation also emphasizes the need to partner core academic subjects with 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) has noted that data from employers and colleges indicate that students who learn to use 21st-century skills along with core subject knowledge are better prepared for success in today’s global economy.

“This legislation mirrors principles and recommendations from P21 which demonstrate how fusing the 4Cs and core subjects makes learning more rigorous, relevant, and engaging as is necessary for college, work, and life success,” said Julie Walker, executive director of the American Association of School Librarians and chair of P21.

“By infusing this definitional framework into the language of the ESEA, it can serve as a bipartisan platform for reauthorization in supporting and encouraging state and local innovation in this direction,” said Alan Knapp, P21’s national policy director.

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Laura Ascione

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