June 7, 2013: Citing that "fewer than 20%" of America's teachers "have Internet connections to meet their teaching needs," President Obama (at left, in a Mooresville, North Carolina school) yesterday unveiled a "bold, new initiative called ConnectED." ( Mooresville, one of the lowest-funded districts in North Carolina, invested six years ago in a district-wide “digital conversion,” and has since leapfrogged to top of the state rankings.)
The goal is to give -- within 5 years -- 99% of America's students access to the Internet through high-speed broadband and high-speed wireless. At the press conference, the President "also directed the federal government to make better use of existing funds to get Internet connectivity and educational techology into classrooms..."
The backgrounder on ConnectED can be accessed here.
According to the Huffington Post's Joy Heather Resmovits reporting on the President's annnouncemet photo-op trip to a school in North Carolina yesterday:
Districts will be in control of their own purchasing.... school districts... face an almost Wild West of unregulated purchasing options in a new market. Digital learning initiatives are sometimes so unpalatable that Idaho's voters used a referendum on November's ballot to shut down the governor's one-to-one computer program for schools -- in part because it gave Hewlett-Packard a $180 million contract. On the other hand, Los Angeles is now developing a plan to put iPads into the hands of 600,000 students.
The plan would also use existing money within the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to fund professional development to "help teachers keep pace with changing ... demands," according to a background memo provided by the White House....
You’ll search in vain for a mention of Common Core in the fact sheet on today’s White House announcement on ensuring that schools have adequate bandwidth, and assessments are only mentioned twice. But ensuring bandwidth for the forthcoming Common Core assessments (something insiders have repeatedly flagged as a major implementation challenge, in a February survey only 23% of Whiteboard’s Education Insiders thought schools would have enough bandwidth and more than 80% saw this as a risk (pdf)) is a clear subtext and a big issue.
... The President is calling on the Federal Communications Commission to modernize and leverage existing programs, as well as the expertise of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to deliver this connectivity.
ConnectED will also provide better broadband access for students in rural areas, by expanding successful efforts to connect parts of the country that typically have trouble attracting investment in broadband infrastructure....
Again, from Resmovits in the HuffPo:
... The White House says the initiative will rely on expanding the Federal Communications Commission's E-Rate program to give schools high-speed Internet and computer access. Officials estimate that over a limited period of time, ConnectED could cost an additional 40 cents per month, or $5 a year, on home phone bills.
The E-Rate program, launched in 1996, was supposed to offer high-speed Internet to schools and libraries for lower rates. But it has faced criticism for not delivering on its promise. A 2002 FCC Inspector General report cited the program's "inadequate competitive bidding requirements" and a lack of sanctions for schools and libraries found to be fraudulent. A Pro Publica analysis in 2012 concluded that "there is growing evidence that the program's crucial low-price requirement has been widely neglected by federal regulators and at least one telecom giant." The report found that 10 years after the program launched, AT&T was not teaching its employees to offer school districts these rates.