Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

The Broadband Imperative: Opening Access to the World for all our Students

Cheryl S. Williams's picture

Earlier this week the State Education Technology Directors Association (SETDA) released its latest report, The Broadband Imperative: Recommendations to Address K-12 Education Infrastructure Needs, at an event featuring presentations by a panel that included two state leaders from Maine and West Virginia along with a district administrator from New Jersey.  Once again, we were reminded of the opportunities that are opened up for students and teachers (and those administrators that lead districts and schools) when robust connections and ubiquitous communications devices are available for teaching and learning.  However, having more years of experience than I like to admit in advocating for the appropriate use of technology to support personalized learning opportunities and teaching effectiveness, I was struck with the realization that this meeting and its recommendations, while important, were not new.  

What is new and what changes the conversation is the adoption by 46 states of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English Language Arts and Math and the assessment instruments that are currently in development to monitor and report out individual student progress towards reaching the CCSS.  Those assessment instruments are designed to be administered online and to require more than answers to multiple choice questions, so to evaluate student progress, schools and districts will need broadband to the classroom and input devices, i.e. computers, laptops, tablets, for students to use in the testing environment.

Public education leaders, including those who attended the report’s release meeting, harbor great hope that the requirements for testing new standards will jump start the acquisition, installation, and widespread use of technology supported instruction in addition to testing.  It will be important for all of us involved in the move to CCSS and the new assessments to ensure that technology acquisitions are designed to support personalized learning, ongoing formative feedback to the teacher, and familiarity with digital information and an informed approach to incorporating the wide world of resources and interaction into the school day.  If we do that well, the end of year summative, online assessment activity will be a seamless addition to the education modus operandi.

While states and local school agencies will be responsible for the implementation at the school and classroom level of the new standards and the measurement of student progress, there is an obvious role for the Federal government in supporting the success of this activity nationwide.  Just as the Federal government developed policies and regulations to require that every citizen in the country has electricity and phone service, now is the time for national leadership to develop policies that result in capital investment for broadband service to every school, library, and learning community.  The details need to be worked out in collaboration with state and local leaders and companies that provide the service.  Done right, business will expand, jobs will be created and best of all, schools will be more effective and student achievement will soar.