The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the new education legislation signed today by President Obama to replace No Child Left Behind, includes a major ed tech provision within the new flexible block grant.
The inclusion of the grant is a huge win for ed tech, for educators and for students.
Under the flex grant, each school district will receive a poverty-based allocation, much of which can be spent on technology, blended learning initiatives and tech-related professional development.
If the grant receives full funding, districts will be able to use as much as $1 billion of the block grant for ed tech. Districts will also be able to spend grant monies on solutions to bridge the "homework gap."
In other words, when the funding associated with ESSA comes down, there will be ample money for ed tech professional development, as well as for devices and tools.
"The big win is that there is up to a billion dollars available for technology spending and of that, about $150 million to $200 million for actual devices and software," says Jon Bernstein, legislative counsel for ISTE in Washington, D.C. "The flexible block grant is an important complement to the update of E-Rate, which was about constructing broadband pipes to schools and assuring ample bandwidth in classrooms. Now we're going to have devices and tools and teacher training."
And while the specifics of how the policy will play out are yet to unfold, Bernstein says educators can look forward to the following benefits:
- More access to professional development to ensure they are using ed tech in meaningful ways.
- A better understanding of how to use data and analytics to gauge student learning.
- Professional learning around how to handle student data privacy.
- More resources to personalize learning.
Students and parents are expected to benefit from:
- A more student-centered education that includes a focus on proper pacing and individual help.
- Internet connectivity at home for those students (and by extension, parents also) with no or inadequate internet access.
- Improved digital literacy.
- Potentially, digital tools to help schools better engage with parents.
"When funded, teachers will have the opportunity to access grants that will finally put the technology they've been lacking into their classrooms," says Kecia Ray, executive director of the Center for Digital Education and ISTE Board chair. "When classrooms have the necessary technology and teachers have the pedagogical practices that use that technology, the sky is the limit for our students."
Mary Wegner, superintendent of the Sitka School District in Sitka, Alaska, and a member of the ISTE Advocacy Committee, says ESSA provides local control for districts to focus on professional development and access to resources that help them address things like the homework gap and allow educators to create classrooms that model real-world experiences.
"Having money that can be used for large-scale, district-directed professional development aligned with the use of digital tools can transform the learning and teaching culture in a district," Wegner says. "The inclusion of the flexible block grant in the law is an acknowledgement that digital devices are part of our everyday world and that professional development is critical in that process."
With this law, ISTE members can expect to see the ed tech funding flow in 2017.
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