Data, Access, and Innovation

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Leaders from more than 40 state departments of education descended upon Arlington, VA this week to attend The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA, @SETDA ‏) Leadership Summit (#setdals).  The annual forum showcased an education all-star cast of speakers including Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Jessica Rosenworcel, Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, and Jon Landis (@jonlandis), Education Development Executive for Apple Education, who kicked off the day with some big picture thoughts: “‘For a long time, what technology teachers were asked to adopt was about efficiency. Now, at this great moment, we are engaging in things that fundamentally change our pedagogy.’” 

One panel focusing on “Inspiring Thought Leadership in the Digital Age” included speakers Michael Golden, Executive Director and Senior Fellow at Catalyst @ Penn GSE, Betsy Corcoran, CEO, EdSurge, and Karen Cator, President and CEO, Digital Promise, who asked how exactly is big data helping education? “Data continues to inform the decisions, but how do we integrate all of this data effectively? We hear a lot about AI, for example, but if you are doing data analysis, you have to be careful about thinking AI will solve all of our problems. 

“There is such incredible power in data,” she continued, “but we haven't always focused on the messaging around data. When can you use it and when should you be concerned? How do you use data while protecting privacy? We haven’t messaged that clearly to teachers and parents.” 

Rosenworcel focused her remarks on her determination to close the homework gap. She noted that the FCC’s E-rate is still “the largest edtech program in the country and the primary program to connect all schools to modern communications.” She reflected on how E-rate looked five years ago when it “was stuck in the dialog era.”  

“We called for E-rate 2.0,” she said, “and it’s now built for the digital age. More than 40 million students have access, and this change was especially dramatic in rural areas. But there is still work to do.” She noted that 28% schools are not meeting the E-rate goal of 1 GBPS Internet Access per 1,000 students. 

Rosenworcel expressed concern about the current administration's commitment to ensuring the E-rate program moves to close the homework gap. “How do we get students connected at home when 7 out of 10 teachers require some form of connectivity to do homework, but 1 out of 3 households has no broadband access?” she asked. 

She proposed a solution that would rethink the Educational Broadband Service, a program that “allows educators to offer instructional services utilizing low-power broadband systems and high-speed internet access" (FCC).  

Student Voices

The lunch Student Voices Plenary Presentation was introduced by DeVos, who commended the leaders in the room. “You challenge us to rethink school,” she said. “...to look  at everything with fresh eyes and forward thinking. This is very inspiring.” She introduced the students of St. Albans City School (VT), winners of the Student Voices Award, who presented highlights of their programs that included no, low, and high tech tools for stewardship projects that included educating people about how to restore their wetlands, community gardens, and an urban forest.

The SETDA Education Forum inspired many to go back to their states and rethink how they innovate in their schools. “Innovation is always important in the world of education,” tweets Zach Scott‏ (@zachscott33), @NASSP Senior Manager of Federal Engagement and Outreach. “...but we need to ensure that innovation is inclusive. If not everyone has access to innovation then we don't see real growth or success.”