Districts are at a pivotal point in their readiness to transform classrooms with the use of technology, hundreds of education companies heard today at the opening session of EdNET 2014 here.
“Decisions are going to be made in every one of 14,000 to 15,000 school districts in the next two to three years that will affect education over the next 20,” said Bob Wise, a former West Virginia governor and the president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington, D.C.-based national policy and advocacy organization focusing on America’s 6 million most at-risk secondary school students.
But issues around equity, efficacy, and privacy must be addressed for that transformation to reach its full potential, members of the keynote panel told the nearly 500 attendees.
Some schools and districts are already transforming, said Richard Culatta, the director of the department’s office of educational technology. What he finds frustrating is that he can visit a school where technology’s positive impact is “amazing, it blows your socks off,” then walk across the street to find a completely different story in a nearby school.
Consequently, Culatta said it’s time to ask important, challenging policy and practice questions like:
- What’s the role of technology in equity?
- What do we think about “bring your own device” as a strategy?
- Do we really need everybody coming to a physical space all the time?
“The infusion of technology has just as much potential to exacerbate the digital divide as it does to close it,” Culatta warned.
Wise called the Federal Communications Commission’s July action on the E-rate program, with its infusion of $2 billion for improved connectivity, “the single greatest reform in education” in the past few years. Paired with the drop in prices of computing devices, the promise of using technology to improve teaching and learning is greater than ever, he said.
To that end, Wise challenged the assembled business leaders to help schools and districts—especially the smaller ones—with their technology planning. “If we’re simply selling stuff, then we fail. We’re going to crash and burn,” he said. The process should ensure that each district “plans before it purchases; it doesn’t purchase and then plan.”
Wise also cautioned about the need to address data and privacy concerns. “You can’t do this if parents are opting out,” he said, noting that it’s important to ensure that every state and district has in place policies that the public readily understands about the importance of using data for instruction, how student privacy is protected, and what security measures are in place.
“What technology can do is to greatly extend the reach of highly skilled teachers, said Marc Tucker, the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that researches the policies and practices of the countries with the best education systems. (Tucker also writes Education Week’s Top Performer opinion blog.)
It also holds a key to helping students master the Common Core State Standards. Tucker urged the audience to imagine how technology can be used to unlock the potential in those standards.
Culatta also challenged education businesses to change the conversation about their success. “You need to talk about outputs, not inputs,” he said. While it’s “exciting to talk about how many devices were bought, and how many students have access that didn’t before,” that’s not really the story that needs to be told, he said. Instead, the emphasis should be on what’s different now that technology has been implemented? How has it changed the experience of students and their learning outcomes?
In November, Culatta said these and other topics will be addressed at the first White House summit of school superintendents. Superintendents are also taking the “Future Ready” pledge, in which they agree to develop, implement, and share their technology plans with other districts to learn one another’s challenges and successes.