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Corporate America Commits $750 Million for ConnectED

President Obama has wooed $750 million worth of commitments from technology companies to support his ConnectED education initiative, originally announced last summer. Among the commitments, $100 million in devices and content from Apple, $100 million in free Internet connectivity for students from AT&T and $100 million worth of digital books for schools from O'Reilly Media.

President Obama referenced a roster of corporate supporters for ConnectED during a talk he gave today at Maryland's Buck Lodge Middle School. Several years ago this school used federal stimulus dollars to put in place an iPad program. ConnectED has set a moonshot goal of outfitting 99 percent of classrooms with high-speed bandwidth and ample educational technology, including a laptop for every student in grades 3 through 12.

"Today, the average American school has about the same Internet bandwidth as the average American home, but it serves 200 times as many people," President Obama noted. "Only around 30 percent of our students have true high-speed Internet in the classroom. In countries like South Korea, that's 100 percent. We shouldn't give that kind of competitive advantage over to other countries. We want to make sure our young people have the same advantages that some child in South Korea has right now. In a country where we expect free WiFi with our coffee, we should definitely demand it in our schools."

Although ConnectED especially concerns itself with schools that have economically disadvantaged students, every public school may feel the benefits of this latest momentum.

In mid-January the call for support among education leaders was reiterated by President Obama during the Education Datapalooza, held by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. "So we picked up the phone and we started asking some outstanding business leaders to help bring our schools and libraries into the 21st century," President Obama explained. "Thanks to the leadership of some of these companies, we've got some big announcements to make."

Responding to the latest call for action:

  • Apple has pledged $100 million in iPads, MacBooks and other products as well as content and professional development tools for disadvantaged schools.
  • AT&T is committing $100 million of free mobile broadband access over the next three years to educational Web sites, applications and services, along with professional development to help middle-school students and their teachers.
  • Beginning Sept. 1, 2014, Sprint will launch a four-year commitment to provide wireless broadband connectivity for 50,000 low-income K-12 students across the country, also valued at $100 million. The company already provides about $24 million in free wireless services and devices to thousands of schools, including Kingman Unified School District in Arizona and St. Louis Public Schools in Missouri.
  • The Verizon Foundation said it would pour $100 million in cash and in-kind contributions into teacher professional development to help them improve the use of technology in the classroom to boost student achievement in science, technology, engineering and math. Verizon already supports a number of STEM educational initiatives, including the Innovative Learning Schools program and the Innovative App Challenge.
  • Autodesk plans to expand its Design the Future program and deliver $250 million worth of the company's 3D design software, project-based curricula, training and certification to every middle and high school in the United States during 2014. The Design program
  • Technology media company O'Reilly is teaming up with online book distributor Safari Books Online to make $100 million worth of educational content and tools available to 15,000 U.S. schools.
  • Microsoft too has announced an expansion of a program that dramatically cuts costs on software and devices, previously available to high-needs schools. The company has promised 12 million free copies of its Office software.

"Now, this is an extraordinary commitment by these business leaders, but they're business leaders, so they're not just doing it out of the goodness of their heart," President Obama added. "They want the country to do well, but they also understand that they want educated customers. They want customers who are able to get good jobs, who are going to be using these tools in the future. They want that next young architect coming out of here to be familiar with using that iPad so that they're designing buildings and using their products. They know that the entire economy will be lifted if more of our young people are doing better. So they're doing good, but it will also help them succeed from a bottom-line perspective by this kind of participation. They are united in their support of young people ... even though sometimes they compete against each other--because all of us have a stake in your education and in your future."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.