Achieve3000’s efforts during the pandemic offer a window into how education businesses have sought to overhaul support for teachers to suit virtual environments.
As students in many states return in person to classrooms, executives of education technology companies say they are dealing with a market that has been altered in a number of key ways.
The EdTech Genome Project aims to give districts more accurate, granular comparisons of what ed-tech products work in what kinds of schools.
School systems are expected to have broad latitude to spend money from the American Rescue Plan on classroom and non-academic needs.
A bill recently introduced in the U.S. Congress would make make E-Rate money available to support Wi-Fi on school buses, the latest of several recent recent efforts to expand student internet connectivity outside school hours.
Sens. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have introduced the legislation, which would require the Federal Communications Commission to issue regulations to make Wi-Fi access on school buses eligible for support under the E-Rate program no later than 180 days after enactment. Under the bill, schools would be reimbursed for equipping buses with Wi-Fi.
The E-Rate program is funded at $4 billion annually, and allows schools to receive reimbursement for certain internet services provided on campus.
If policymakers provide more financial support for off-campus wireless services, it could increase the ability of students to make use of companies’ ed-tech tools, apps, and platforms, including on long bus rides where students have access to laptops and other devices, if this bill gets enacted.
The bill is aimed, in part, at promoting digital equity for rural and tribal communities in states like New Mexico, according to Lujan’s office.
Approximately one-quarter of New Mexico’s over 350,000 students don’t have affordable internet, according to a statement by the New Mexico Homework Gap Team, which describes itself as an ad hoc group of professionals who support narrowing the digital divide for K-12 students in the state.
A December study by the Alliance for Excellent Education estimated that almost 17 million students nationwide lack home internet access to complete school assignments.
“For rural and tribal students who travel hours to and from school, these commutes can be valuable time accessing the internet, completing assignments, and conducting research,” Lujan said in a statement. “Empowering our schools to equip buses with Wi-Fi is an opportunity to uplift our students, tackle the homework gap, and help alleviate the financial strain that too many families are experiencing at home.”
If passed, the legislation would give schools more flexibility in terms of figuring out how they can best use ed tech to promote equity, said Amina Fazlullah, equity policy director for Common Sense Media, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting safe and effective technology use for children.
“Every community has different layers of barriers to equitable access to education related to technology,” she said in an interview. “Having that flexibility ultimately in the E-Rate program will be incredibly useful for schools where students have long commutes.”
But Fazlullah suggested that the ed-tech funding expansion outlined in the Lujan-Graham bill shouldn’t substitute for other potential federal initiatives to support costs for students’ home connectivity.
It remains to be seen whether the FCC will act decisively on some lawmakers’ and education advocates’ calls for a long-term, dedicated funding source to support students’ home connectivity.
The COVID-19 stimulus package approved earlier this month allocated $7 billion to the FCC for the creation of what is being called the “Emergency Connectivity Fund,” separate from E-Rate, to pay for high-speed internet and devices used off campus.
The commission also recently announced plans for a policy that, among many other things, would allow school districts to apply for reimbursement for costs they have paid for students and teachers to access broadband at home.
FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, in an interview with Education Week this month, said the agency remains in the “process of evaluating how we can update the current E-Rate program to meet the moment students and families find themselves in.” She spoke after the agency in February issued a request for public comments on whether E-Rate funds could be used to support remote learning during the pandemic.
In 2018, then a U.S. congressman, Lujan became familiar with how Wi-Fi operates on a school bus when he attended a “Rolling Study Halls” event. Hosted by Santa Fe Schools and funded by Google, the event took a Wi Fi-equipped bus to a Native American pueblo in New Mexico, Tom Ryan, chief information and strategy officer for the district, noted in an email.
In addition to Santa Fe, the Albuquerque district is one other school system that has outfitted school buses with mobile Wi-Fi units, installing hot spots on 80 buses across the area as of October.
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., has introduced legislation similar to the Lujan-Graham bill in the House.
The legislation has picked up endorsements from the National Education Association, Competitive Carriers Association, Free Press, Public Knowledge, School Superintendents Association, Association of Educational Service Agencies, Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents, National Rural Education Association, National Rural Education Advocacy Consortium, and the State Educational Technology Directors Association.
Photo: Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., is pictured on June 29, 2018, visiting the Kewa Pueblo, a Native American settlement southwest of Santa Fe, N.M. The program was called “Rolling Study Halls” which was funded by Google.
Investors are putting a premium on companies that have the products and expertise to span distance learning and a return to in-person lessons.
A measure moving through Congress would greatly expand apprenticeship programs for students pursuing careers in areas including computer science, green jobs, and cybersecurity.
The U.S. House of Representatives last week approved a bipartisan measure that calls for more than $3.5 billion in spending on apprenticeships over five years.
It tasks the U.S. Labor and Education secretaries with striking an interagency agreement to align national apprenticeship programs with secondary and adult education.
The bill would authorize an increase in the amount of federal funding provided to states to support the administration of those programs, including businesses involved in career-focused training and the apprentices themselves, said Katie Spiker, director of government affairs for the National Skills Coalition.
It’s unclear whether Congress would actually appropriate up to the allowable amount provided in the bill.
Congress appropriated $185 million to registered apprenticeship programs in annual spending legislation passed in 2020.
Many state and district officials see support for computer science, coding, and other STEM-related studies as an important strategy for long-term job creation. And education companies have increased their focus on computer science training for students.
“These investments will provide more 21st century job opportunities for our kids, more qualified employees for our local employers, and more economic resiliency for our communities,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., in a statement. The lawmaker introduced an amendment to promote computer science programs that was ultimately adopted into the legislation.
The National Apprenticeship Act now heads to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions for further consideration.
Senate HELP Committee spokesperson Maddy Russak said committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., is “pleased the House has passed this important legislation and is looking at all options to expand apprenticeship opportunities as quickly as possible.”
If enacted, the bill would mark the first time since 1937 that the national apprenticeship system has been comprehensively updated.
Dubbed the National Apprenticeship Act, the legislation also directs the agencies to find ways to inform parents and students no later than middle school of programs under the national apprenticeship system and their value in choosing careers.
In addition, the legislation instructs the Labor Department’s office of apprenticeship to award grants to expand national apprenticeship programs, including pre-apprenticeships and youth apprenticeships, and to strengthen alignment between the apprenticeship system and education providers, according to a bill summary.
The National Apprenticeship Act also charts a process for state agencies to gain recognition as state apprenticeship agencies, which would have sole authority over recognizing and registering pre-apprenticeship, youth apprenticeship, or apprenticeship programs in their given states.
These agencies would be charged with determining whether apprenticeship programs are in compliance with federal apprenticeship standards, and providing a certificate of recognition for these programs, among other things.
Under the bill, certain private education entities also could receive grant funding if they provide apprenticeships.
The money can support industry partnerships, trade associations, “a group of employers,” and professional associations that sponsor or participate in a program under the national apprenticeship system.
Organizations backing the legislation include the National Skills Coalition, the Association for Career and Technical Education, and the National Urban League.
Photo of the U.S. Capitol by Susan Walsh/AP.
One of the biggest challenges facing school districts during the pandemic is also one of those most fundamental — they have many students who don’t have reliable internet access.
The Killeen Independent School District in central Texas has taken a multifaceted approach to solving that problem.John Hocking is director of network and…
Low bandwidth in students’ homes poses a challenge for education companies. Here’s how they’re responding, with products and workarounds.
The pandemic has laid bare needs that education companies are trying to address to new collaborations and partnerships.