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Obama's ConnectED: Way to Go!

On June 6, 2013 President Obama instructed the FCC to modernize the E-rate program. On July 19, the FCC voted to modernize the E-rate Program. Holy Cow! What speed!

While iniitally we pooh-poohed1 Obama’s ConnectED Initiative, we apologized2 for our limited vision, after several good friends quietly explained the facts of political life to us.  And now, we need to applaud the speed and vision of the FCC! There are three objectives to their modernization effort:

  1. Increased connectivity to high-capacity broadband
  2. Efficient purchasing through bulk buying, consortia, and competitive bidding improvements
  3. Cutting red tape to speed, streamline, and increase transparency in application reviews3

Those sound great! But in the announcement of the vote, the announcement said that the “Commission seeks comment"4 on the above three themes. That phrase was used five times in fact!  In none of the articles we have read about the FCC vote is the process “seeks comment” explained. (We expect emails and calls from our friends, shortly.)

E-rate has helped schools in America immensely: “When Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, only 14% of classrooms had Internet and most schools with Internet access (74%) used dial-up Internet access. By 2005, the E-rate program had successfully connected 94% of U.S. classrooms to the Internet, and by 2006, nearly all public libraries were connected to the Internet (98%)."5

While $2.2 billion is available for schools and libraries through the E-rate program, apparently “For funding this year (2013-2014), schools and libraries sought E-rate funding in excess of $4.9 billion."6 To increase funding for E-rate, Obama has suggested that Americans pay an additional $57 a year. The FCC has the power to levy that tax, without a vote of Congress, and it will appear on one’s phone bill; in turn, the FCC can command the telecommunications’ companies to collect those taxes.

The Whitehouse issued a statement after the vote: “Today, the Federal Communications Commission took a first, important step toward realizing our vision of making 21st century classrooms available to every student in America. Preparing our nation’s students with the skills they need to get good jobs and compete with countries around the world will rely increasingly on interactive, individualized learning experiences driven by new technology."8

WAIT A MINUTE! Of all the potential capabilities that using computers in teaching and learning has, why has the White House singled out “individualized learning experiences?” Because the White House feels that personalized instruction9 is the right strategy for using computers in education. Using learning analytics, education’s version of Big Data, the computer provides each student at each moment in time with just the right nugget of instruction. Isn’t this is CAI — computer-assisted instruction — 3.0 — CAI on steroids?

We are all thrilled at the speed in which Obama’s ConnectED Initiative is moving along; well done!10 But we, at least, are less thrilled about the emphasis on “individualized learning experiences”. We will enumerate and explain our concerns in an upcoming blog.

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About the Authors

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

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

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at