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Two Plans, One Vision

March 10, 2010, was an important day in ed tech history.

March 10, 2010, was an important day in ed tech history. At “The Future of Technology in K-12 Education Policy and Practice,” an event held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Education (ED) brought forth their respective plans for schools’ technology-driven future, and though very different, they have complementary goals.

Karen Cator, director of the ED’s Office of Education Technology, presented the National Educational Technology Plan. It is a far-reaching, often philosophical treatise that takes a long look at learning, assessment, teaching, infrastructure, and productivity, including what we know from recent research in each area and how technology can positively affect each, along with a few examples from the field. Each section establishes a goal, identifying four or five sweeping actions that will help meet it. Cator says the plan—which can be found at ed.gov/technology—is already being used to inform all aspects of the discussion around reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. She will be speaking about it at the FETC Virtual Conference & Expo (fetcvirtual.org) on April 22.

Steve Midgley, the FCC’s director of education, presented the education chapter of a much larger National Broadband Plan (broadband.gov). It includes specific recommendations for the FCC and many other agencies in three areas: 1) supporting and promoting online learning; 2) unlocking the value of data and improving transparency; and 3) modernizing educational broadband infrastructure.

The plan’s recommendations go well beyond what is traditionally thought of as broadband. As I had hoped, there are proposed changes to the FCC’s E-Rate program, which provides eligible schools with discounts on telecommunications services. These proposals include raising the cap on funding to account for inflation (the $2.25 billion cap is the same today as it was in 1996), streamlining the application process, providing E-Rate support for internal connections to more schools and libraries, and funding wireless connectivity for portable devices while letting students and educators take the devices off campus. Unexpectedly, there is a recommendation to expand the E-Rate to community colleges. If that comes to pass, the cap on spending needs to far exceed inflation.

The section on supporting and promoting online learning has many proposals that come as a surprise. For example, the plan calls on the Department of Education to increase the supply of digital educational content available online, to support and fund R&D of online learning systems, and to provide grant funding to train teachers in digital literacy and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) instruction. States are also being advised to make changes to course accreditation and teacher certification requirements so students can take more courses for credit online and teachers can provide online instruction across state boundaries.

There is much to be encouraged about in both plans, although it is clear that the more specific recommendations in the broadband plan have a better chance of being fulfilled in the short run. Even more encouraging is the level of cooperation among disparate parts of the federal government in the building of the ed tech plan, and between the FCC and the ED in crafting the broadband plan. That is historic. Now all we need is for Congress to act on the recommendations.

This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of THE Journal.

About the Author

Geoffrey H. Fletcher is the deputy executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).