New ed-tech bill supports digital learning, Common Core

Despite enthusiasm among education groups, the bill likely is a tough sell in a highly partisan Congress locked in a dispute over federal spending.

A new bill calls on Congress to fund $500 million in grants to states and districts for educational technology, and supporters say it could replace the old Enhancing Education Through Technology (E2T2) program, which died in 2011.

The Transforming Education Through Technology Act was introduced by U.S. Rep. George Miller of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

The ed-tech bill is backed by a coalition of national education organizations representing K-12 schools across the United States, including the Alliance for Excellent Education (AEE), American Association of School Administrators, Association of Educational Service Agencies, Consortium for School Networking, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), National Rural Education Association, Software and Information Industry Association, and State Educational Technology Directors Association.

In a joint statement, the organizations described the bill as “important legislation [that] will help ensure that all students graduate from high school college and career ready, with a high-quality education enabled by the effective use of technology.”

Specifically, the legislation would support teachers and principals in using technology to increase college and career readiness, close achievement gaps, and engage all students. It encourages the use technology to redesign curriculum to meet Common Core standards, individualize instruction, and increase student engagement. It also supports the training of teachers to incorporate digital learning into the classroom, while using real-time data and assessments to drive instruction.

(Next page: More details about the bill; challenges to its passage)

The bill would help school districts build an educational technology infrastructure to make sure schools take full advantage of  technology by enhancing broadband capabilities, purchasing hardware and software, moving to online assessments, and improving technology readiness for implementing college- and career-ready standards.

Other parts of the legislation include:

  • Reviewing state ed-tech standards for students and educators.
  • Improving technology readiness and online assessments.
  • Aligning teacher and school leader preparation with ed-tech and digital learning standards.
  • Helping districts with professional development, curriculum, and instruction.
  • Personalizing instruction through gaming, blended learning, online credit accumulation, and other strategies.
  • Providing on-demand professional development, pre-service training in digital learning, and online communities of practice for educators.
  • Ensuring equitable access to educational technology, including intuitive games, assistive technology, technology-based accommodations, and expanded learning opportunities.
  • Improving efficiency and productivity through open educational resources, one-to-one computing initiatives, or hybrid learning.

“With no dedicated federal funding over the last few years for classroom technology, and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act stalled, [this bill] will be a rallying opportunity for the entire education community to … underscore the key roll digital learning plays in all aspects of teaching and learning to ensure all students are college and career ready,” said ISTE in a statement.

Many advocates of the bill cite the lack of a dedicated funding stream for educational technology as a reason why they support Miller’s legislation. E2T2, created with the No Child Left Behind Act, provided $500 million per year for ed tech at its inception in the early 2000s but saw its funding reduced to $100 million by 2010, the last year the program was funded. Another $650 million for ed-tech, provided through the federal stimulus program, also ran out.

Along with the $500 million in grants to states and districts for ed-tech infrastructure and initiatives, an additional $250 million would support a competitive grant program to use technology to improve teacher training, assessments, and individualized instruction.

According to the bill, recipients would have to show the money they receive is not for initiatives currently supported by the federal eRate program.

“Technology is enriching nearly every facet of our lives,” said Bob Wise, president of AEE and former governor of West Virginia. “Unfortunately, the nation’s system of education has yet to fully embrace the potential of technology and digital learning. I applaud Congressman Miller for introducing legislation that will bring promise of technology to the nation’s classrooms.”

However, with many lawmakers looking to curb federal spending and reduce the national deficit, Miller’s bill could be a tough sell in Congress.

Telephone calls to the office of Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., GOP chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, were not returned as of press time.

Follow Associate Editor Meris Stansbury on Twitter at @eSN_Meris.

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