Policy | News

Digital Inclusion 'Imperative' for American Education

Despite tough economic circumstances and sequestration, federal investment in education technology "can't wait," according to United States Representative George Miller, who addressed education leaders Monday at the CoSN 2013 conference in San Diego, CA. Miller, senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, has introduced legislation that would bring back funding specifically targeted toward technology in education, funding that has dried up with the end of Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The legislation, Transforming Education Through Technology (PDF), would authorize $750 million in fiscal year 2014 "and such sums as may be necessary for each of the succeeding 4 years" to provide for the purchase of hardware, software, and services and to provide professional development for educators and administrators. Included in the total is $500 million in state grants (like EETT) and $250 million dedicated to the "Technology for Tomorrow Fund," a competitive education partnership grant aimed at programs that "improve student achievement, academic growth, and college-and-career readiness through the use of technology and digital learning."

"These are tough economic times," Miller told THE Journal in an interview at the CoSN conference. "We have sequestration. But it's becoming clearer and clearer from more and more economic studies that this investment can't wait, if we really want the results that we need — we need — as a nation from our educational systems.... We, the federal government, have been standing on the sidelines, and we've got to get back into the game. That's the purpose of this legislation."

The legislation has received overwhelming support from education and advocacy groups, including CoSN, the International Society for Technology in Education, the National Education Association, the American Association of School Administrators, the Software & Information Industry Association, the State Educational Technology Directors Association, the American Association of School Administrators Association, and the National Rural Education Advocacy Coalition. Congressman Miller told THE Journal he's beginning bipartisan talks in the House and is working with the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions to determine feasibility. He said he hopes to see consideration of the bill this year.

"There's ... a pall over the Congressional system because of sequestration, and you can't make any new initiatives because you have ... across the board cuts taking place," he said. "But just as people are now looking for new relief so the military can make critical investments, we've got to make sure the education system in this country can make critical investments in research and technology...."

TETT: Not Just EETT Redux
The TETT legislation differs significantly from its forerunner, EETT, which was introduced as part of the bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Where EETT's focus was primarily on the funding technology for schools, TETT is much more narrowly focused on funding the effective implementation of technology. In particular, it explicitly addresses the critical need for teacher and administrator professional development as part of any technology rollout.

"We're inheriting a lot of different pieces, and we're trying to bring them together, recognizing you can't do one without the other," Miller told us. "We tried that once. We tried [placing requirements on] the schools but not training anyone what to do."

He said he thinks that was a fundamental weakness of EETT.

EETT saw slowly declining investments from the federal government under both the Bush and Obama administrations, until it was finally eliminated entirely in the 2012 budget. (For some history on EETT leading up to the end, see "Ed Tech Consolidated in 2012 Federal Budget Proposal" and "Groups Decry Technology Cuts in Federal Education Budget.")

In addition to language dealing with professional development, the bill also explicitly addresses the need for technology to improve achievement and improve access for students, in particular those who live in rural communities where access can be an issue and those who are disadvantaged in other ways.

The bill also opens up funding for programs that would be eligible for E-rate, though funding cannot be duplicative under the current bill.

"We're trying to look ahead, and we're trying to drive the innovation. We're trying to drive the changes in the educational setting ... and drive the technology to [that setting] and drive the setting to take advantage of the technology. We're trying to really pair it up in the broadest sense. I think what we're seeing in what we consider successful systems is really a holistic operation."

The Political Imperative of Digital Inclusion
In his address to the CoSN membership Monday afternoon, titled "The Political Imperative of Digital Inclusion," Miller argued that investment in education technology, especially investments designed to make access to technology more equitable regardless of geography or economic circumstance, is fundamental to driving changes that will help America's education systems to drive success in students and, ultimately, the nation — and to ensure the civil rights of all children.

"This change speaks exactly to the purpose of the federal role in education," he said, "whether it's the great research universities of this nation that drive technology, that drive discovery, that drive innovation, and the elementary and secondary system, which drives the human resources to those universities and other institutions of higher learning, or whether it's the fundamental principle or equal opportunity in our society, we now see with the proper engagement of education technology that we can expand the numbers of children that have that opportunity to succeed and [improve the way we] carry out the great civil rights laws, such as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, such as No Child Left Behind, that basically reaffirms for this nation that we believe that every child should have that opportunity, and every child should be able to take advantage of that opportunity."

That promise, he said, is what the Transforming Education Through Technology legislation is designed to address.

"It's a national problem. It's a national issue. And I think the solution has to be national," Miller told THE Journal. "This is a basic, fundamental investment portfolio in education, which we believe is the driver of economic growth...."

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