MACUL Advocates on Behalf of Educational Technology for our Members!

I had the privilege of attending the 10th Annual Washington Ed Tech Policy Summit on April 10 and 11, 2013. Ric Wiltse, MACUL’s Executive Director, also attended along with 75 other educational technology advocates from across the nation. This event was organized by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), and the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).

The keynote speaker was Michael Yudin, Acting Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education. Yudin provided an overview of federal education policy and its implications for educational technology. Following the keynote address, there were three panel discussions about pressing issues to the educational community: technology readiness for Common Core State Standards and Online Assessments, NCLB waivers, and commentary and predictions on education policy from pundits and reporters. The conversations were rich with diverse perspectives.

Several hours were spent learning about current issues: federal appropriations, ESEA, and E-Rate; all difficult topics to deeply understand. We received “advocacy training” to prepare for our congressional visits – how to ask for specifics in a compelling way that includes personal stories.

Long-time education technology champion and Ranking Member of the House Education & the Workforce Committee George Miller (D-CA) addressed the Summit with a passionate argument concerning the need for a federal role in education technology, calling it an issue of civil rights and equity for students across the nation. Representative Miller discussed the comprehensive ed tech legislation he introduced in February—the Transforming Education Through Technology Act (H.R. 521) —and his efforts to gain additional co-sponsors for the bill. Please help Representative Miller by making your voice heard on this critical piece of legislation by going to the Ed Tech Action Network

(www.edtechactionnetwork.org) and sending a letter to your Representative urging him or her to support the Transforming Education Through Technology Act (H.R. 521). Judy, this could be a sidebar if space allows.

The highlight of our trip to Washington DC was visiting Capitol Hill to meet with the staff of our Michigan senators and representatives to discuss our talking points and personal stories regarding technology’s value to learning. Ric and I visited the offices of Senators Levin and Stabenow, and Representatives Amash and Bentevolio. We focused on two main points:

1. There is a need for a dedicated funding source toward educational technology:  Hopefully, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) will be up for discussion soon. The current version of ESEA, called the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), is overdue for reauthorization and may be considered by Congress in 2013. When NCLB was enacted in 2001, Congress and the Administration recognized technology’s value to education by establishing a separate, directed funding program focused on improving education through technology: Title IID or the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program. Congress and President Bush supported EETT because it recognized that technology has an important role to play in achieving key national goals – raising student achievement, ensuring high quality teaching, and increasing parental involvement – among others. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration’s ESEA reauthorization blueprint proposed to consolidate EETT with a number of programs, which has left classroom technology with no direct federal Department of Education funding source. Since FY2011, EETT has received no federal funding and the Administration’s current proposed budget would continue this trend. MACUL members undoubtedly feel the loss of several programs that federal EETT funds provided, including the MACUL-sponsored MI Champions and STEM MI Champions programs, dedicated funding for the MI Learning Channel on iTunes U, and funding to support the student technology showcase at the Michigan Capitol Building.

Ric and I explained that funding for infrastructure and teacher professional development is crucially needed. We also explained the federal mandate to assess students online by the year 2014, something that very few school districts are equipped to do at this time.

2. It is time to increase the cap for e-Rate: The E-Rate is part of the federal universal service program, a support mechanism that was created in 1934 to ensure that rural consumers had affordable phone service. E-Rate has played a major role in increasing public school classroom internet connections from 14% in 1998 to nearly 100% today. The E-Rate has also helped low-income, minority and rural students gain similar access in their classrooms to their peers around the country. Despite these impressive figures, E-Rate’s mission is incomplete. School bandwidth needs are continuing to skyrocket as educators incorporate cutting-edge digital tools and devices, online content and videos, blended learning models and more into classrooms to further personalize the learning experience. Moreover, schools are moving towards intensive online and adaptive assessments which, while allowing teachers to customize instruction and ensure that all students graduate high school college-and-career ready, are bandwidth intensive. According to Education SuperHighway’s National School Speed Test, only 13% of schools meet the State Educational Technology Directors Association’s recommended standard of 100mbps per 1000 students for digital learning. This data tracks with a 2010 FCC survey in which 80% of E-Rate participants indicated that their broadband connections do not fully meet their needs.

The E-Rate remains desperately underfunded to meet school broadband needs, with demand outstripping available current funding by a factor of 2 to 1. The E-Rate’s $2.25 billion annual cap, established in 1998 and based on a now outmoded 15 year old cost estimate, has not increased appreciably since that time. An annual cap adjustment, based on inflation, that the Commission approved in 2010 has only added a fraction of the support necessary to meet surging demand. The cap was set 15 years ago before mobile technology was even around. We explained that all schools need the wireless infrastructure to support technology use for learning.

The staffs of our senators and representatives were receptive to our ideas. They appreciated our explanations as well as our dedication and service to the Michigan educational community and voiced support for the two points outlined above. MACUL is dedicated to assisting the education community through support, promotion, and leadership in the effective use of educational technology. We advocate for educational technology to support you!

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MACUL President Pam Shoemaker with Shelby Emmett, Legislative Aide for Representative Kerry Bentivolio

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MACUL President Pam Shoemaker and MACUL Executive Director Ric Wilse with Arak Kahramanian Legislative Correspondent for Senator Stabenow and Melanie, Staff Assistant

Pam Shoemaker, ED.S. is the 2013-14 MACUL President. She serves as the Technology Instructional Coach for the Walled Lake Consolidated School District. Contact her at pam.shoemaker@macul.org. Follow her on Twitter @shoemap