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ConnectED: Great Idea, Lousy Implementation
It finally happened! America has made a positive move to bring schools into the 21st century. (Never mind that we are already deep into the Age of Mobilism.) On June 6, 2013, President Obama told the FCC to create the ConnectED1 Initiative that will bring the Internet to 99 percent of America’s schools within five years and provide professional development to our teachers, who most definitely need training to learn how to exploit the opportunities that Internet connectivity affords.
Now the bad news: NO NEW MONEY. The ONLY use of the words “funds” or “money” or “cash” or “dollars” came in these three sentences:
- “Under ConnectED the Department of Education will also work with schools and districts to better use existing federal funding to train teachers on this transformational technology.”
- “Using existing federal funding through Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.”
- “Additionally, federal funds under Title VI of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act may be used to train educators to use the educational technology needed to implement new, computer-based assessments of student learning.”
We have broken out the text that mentions funds lest you miss these three references to money in the 1,785-word document2.
Yes, there may be some existing funds that can be redirected to this new initiative. But, frankly, it is hard to believe that those diverted funds are going to be enough to reach ConnectED’s goal of connecting all America’s schools — the poorer schools, the rural schools, the urban schools — to the Internet in five years “at speeds no less than 100 Mbps and with a target of 1 Gbps” and provide for teacher training.
President Obama carefully chose the school district in which he made the ConnectED announcement:
“Today President Obama is announcing ConnectED in a school district that brought this concept to life. Mooresville is in the bottom ten out of 115 districts in spending per student, but performs second in student achievement. Mooresville has accomplished this by going all-in on the promise of education technology, and since providing one-to-one digital devices for every student and training teachers on how to use them effectively in the classroom, graduation, academic achievement, and attendance rates are up significantly.” 3
Hey, Mooresville has moved into the 21st century without any new money — so why can’t your district do it!!
Ooops. Wait a minute… Buried in Mooresville’s School Board’s annual report4 is a thank you to the following companies as “True Blue Sponsors”:
- Apple, BestSweet, Inc., Central Carolina Insurance, Christian Tours, Cisco, Commscope, Discovery Education, Gates Construction Co., Inc., JCMD Law, Lowe’s, McDonalds, Mooresville Ford-Mercury, Randy Marion Chevrolet/GMC/Subaru, Strawbridge Studios, Inc., Synovia, Windstream.
- And, please take a look at the photo that the Mooresville Foundation — whose board of directors is made up of representatives of foundations, companies, investment groups, and banks — selected for their annual report: three Caucasian men on a lovely shaded, green, green, golf course, just chit-chatting away during the third Mooresville Foundation For Excellent in Education Annual Golf Tournament. The third one, mind you!
Given the list of 16 companies and its clearly well endowed Mooresville Foundation, IT IS TOTALLY DISGENIOUS to claim that Mooresville funded their one-to-one initiative through “standard” federal, state, local funds. (The foundation and business contributions are indeed “local funds,” just not the standard ones that most every district has access to, e.g., property taxes.) Does your school get free computers from Apple? Does your Foundation have an Annual Golf Tournament?
While the President’s announcement is better than a poke in the eye, it is no where’s near good enough!
If America is serious about bringing its schools into the 21st century, then America must allocate new budget funds to make that happen. Reallocating existing the budget is absolutely not the way it will happen.
Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor and Chair in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at www.imlc.io.
Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at www.imlc.io.
Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at thejournal.com/rc.