VI. Policy Recommendations


Integrating new technologies into the daily classroom routine will take a huge investment: of time, money, and people that are committed to supporting online learning. First, education leaders must maintain infrastructure funding, prioritizing investment in robust, scalable broadband infrastructure with future use in mind. Districts also need state guidance and support to make informed decisions about devices, tools, and resources for online teaching and learning. Further, all relevant stakeholders, including teachers, need to be included in technology decisions, and these decisions must be made in coordination with other choices around instruction, curriculum, and assessment. Finally, districts need to be connected with the tools and resources to monitor and evaluate network performance at the classroom level. To take full advantage of the opportunities presented by new technologies, education leaders at the federal, state, and local levels need to work together to support online teaching and learning.

1. Invest in Sustainable Infrastructure

Invest in Infrastructure

Broadband infrastructure is the foundation for equitable access to online learning opportunities—without it, it will be impossible to achieve any parity in the kinds of opportunities students have to learn. The federal government should continue to invest in broadband infrastructure by maintaining increased annual funding through the FCC’s E-rate program. Further, while every state is rapidly pursuing online assessment, right now just over half of states have dedicated funding for broadband infrastructure for schools. Going forward, every state should set aside funds to help its districts meet basic infrastructure requirements to administer online assessments. At the same time, states should not narrowly set connectivity targets for districts to only meet the needs of testing.

Prioritize Fiber

As schools invest in upgrading their broadband infrastructure, the smartest investment they can make is in fiber-optic technology—wired connections that transmit data over longer distances and at faster speeds—due to its capacity to meet future bandwidth demands. The E-rate program should maintain its commitment to funding fiber, including self-provisioning by districts.

While states have made significant progress to ensure all districts are connected via fiber, those districts and schools that remain disconnected have some of the most challenging circumstances. These schools are often rural, located far from other schools, and have limited choice among Internet Service Providers (ISPs). While in the short term it may prove easier to rely on inferior infrastructure, it is not a long-term solution for providing equitable learning opportunities for these students. States have a responsibility to help districts in need access equitable service. Meanwhile, districts facing limited choices should consider all of their options, including the possibility of connecting to municipal networks or self-provisioning.

Plan for Future Use

According to rough estimates, broadband usage continues to increase 50 percent per year. District leaders in charge of infrastructure decisions should plan for a future in which demand continues to grow. EducationSuperHighway’s Planning Toolkit recommends that leaders plan for peak usage, not just average usage; keep all users in mind, including students, teachers, and others that need access to the network; and continue to monitor networks and make adjustments to levels of service as needed.

2. Connect Technology to Curriculum and Instruction

Encourage Greater Planning for Online Learning

As the adoption and implementation of new technologies take off in schools, state leaders should more actively encourage districts to plan for online learning, not just online assessment. While infrastructure and devices are clearly necessary, they are not sufficient to support teaching and learning in the classroom. Districts are in very different places in terms of technology adoption and use, but there are common considerations that they must all plan for around adopting learning management systems, finding rich sources of content to draw upon, and choosing the right tools to support instruction. States can help to set a vision for online learning and encourage districts to plan for the kinds of educational opportunities they intend to provide in their schools.

Provide Professional Learning Opportunities

State education leaders have a clear role to play in providing opportunities for professional learning to districts, schools, and classroom teachers. Many district and school leaders are making decisions about new technologies in a vacuum, without access to—or even knowledge of—existing research about the effectiveness of various tools and products. Further, teachers are often left to determine on their own how to implement new technologies in the classroom. As the field confronts a rapidly evolving marketplace, it is critical that states provide professional learning opportunities to help education leaders make informed choices about devices, tools, and resources.

3. Include all Relevant Stakeholders in Technology Decisions

Break Down Silos in Priority-Setting and Procurement

It is easy to set technology priorities and make purchases without fully considering how new tools will support what is happening in schools and classrooms. School districts are too often organized in ways that result in this kind of siloed decision-making. These silos often lead to ineffective adoption and use of new technologies. Ensuring that decisions are made in coordination with choices about instructional models, curriculum, and assessment, however, will enable these new technologies to have greater impact. State and national education leaders should also lead by example, striving to break down existing silos between education and technology decision-makers.

Solicit Input From a Wide Range of Stakeholders

Education leaders at every level should actively work to make sure the vision and goals being set for online learning are being made by a diverse group of stakeholders. This should include educators, parents, and students, as well as local government, business leaders, and other members in the community. Without input from educators, as well as students and their families, new technologies will never be fully connected to teaching and learning. Further, including diverse community stakeholders from the beginning to solicit input, ask questions, and raise concerns can increase support and improve technology choices.

4. Provide Tools to Monitor and Evaluate Network Performance

Evaluate Network Performance at the Classroom Level

School districts must be able to evaluate network performance at the classroom level—in real time—to understand how connectivity is working for teachers and students, and make informed decisions about classroom connectivity. The performance of the network connection only provides one piece of the puzzle when trying to determine whether a network is functioning at the needed capacity. Even in well-resourced districts, however, supporting students and teachers with consistent network performance is a difficult task, particularly when schools are not able to measure their networks at every level. Some districts do receive information from vendors about total bandwidth to their wide area network, at the school level, and per Wi-Fi access point, but most do not have access to such granular data. Federal and state leaders need to work together to identify solutions to network measurement for school leaders.