“Another day, another educational policy that changes how we do things ... again.” That’s the way it feels at times, doesn’t it? And sometimes, past negative experiences can cause educators to ignore potential opportunities because it’s just such a relief not to have to make another change. Well, brace yourself. Here is a quick overview of how four very recent federal policies are significantly changing (or may have the potential to change) what and how students learn.1. E-Rate Reform
In 2014, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) increased the E-Rate program’s annual funding by $1.5 billion, so the program could help more schools and libraries obtain discounts for high-speed broadband connectivity and broadband internal connections. The new funding levels went into effect during the 2015-16 school year, and they’ve already had a positive effect.
According to a March 2016 THE Journal article, because of the new funding levels, 77 percent of districts now meet the FCC’s minimum Internet goal of 100 Kbps per student. At Mimio, we’re thrilled because it means U.S. schools are closer than ever before to making personalized, interactive learning a universal experience for students.
Surprisingly, the article reported that about one-third of the districts that are potential applicants haven’t even started the application process. If you’re in one of those districts, and if the problem is that you’re not sure how to get started, here’s an overview of the application process (though the filing window is currently closed).
2. Every Student Succeeds Act
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed by President Obama on December 10, 2015, is the first federal statute to require that state standards be aligned with college and career-ready outcomes for all students, according to the Education Counsel. As the organization points out, there is now a “real opportunity for states and districts to set a clear ‘line of sight’ by defining college and career readiness to include the array of deeper learning knowledge and skills – academic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal – that are required for success in today’s economy and society.”
We’ve indeed been seeing an even greater emphasis on the concept of students’ being career- or college-ready. That includes talk about the best ways to teach the non-academic (but definitely career-friendly) soft skills, as well as life skills such as grit. How well different college and career readiness efforts work out remains to be seen (it’s been less than a year, after all). Successful programs will undoubtedly tout their results, so let’s all keep our eyes and ears open.
3. Stronger Together
Besides being Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign slogan, “Stronger Together” is the name of a new $120 million grant program that was introduced this year. Designed to promote greater socioeconomic integration within schools, the program sets up a competition to reward school districts or groups of districts that voluntarily make efforts to break up school-poverty concentrations.
The motivation behind this initiative are findings that kids from low-income families have much more academic success when they attend middle-class schools. For example, a 2010 Century Foundation study by Heather Schwartz of the RAND Corporation found that children in public housing who attended the Montgomery County school district’s most-advantaged elementary schools “far outperformed in math and reading those children in public housing who attended the district’s least-advantaged elementary schools.” This blog post from the NYU Furman Center gives further details about the issue of economic segregation. This is a commendable effort, so it’s worth looking for success stories to emulate, or jumping in if you have ideas of how to proceed.
4. Computer Science for All Initiative
Last but not at all least is the addition of a new basic academic skill to the traditional three R’s of reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. That newcomer is CS, as in computer science.
At the beginning of 2016, The Department of Education pledged $4 billion over three years to fund states’ efforts to make computer science a part of K-12 education. Every state that submits a well-designed, five-year “Computer Science for All” strategy will receive grant funds. Districts can also directly receive $100 million in competitive grants for professional development, instructional materials, and the building of regional partnerships that support computer science instruction.
The federal government is also partnering with other organizations to make computer science an integral part of the K-12 experience. Here’s a sampling of who’s participating:
- The National Science Foundation (NSF), in addition to pledging $120 million over the next five years, is working with private organizations such as Infosys Foundation USA (which pledged a $1 million donation) and Tata Consultancy Services (which is providing grants to teachers in 27 U.S cities) to pilot and expand professional development.
- Cartoon Network created coding-themed episodes of its Powerpuff Girls .Additionally, the network is creating free coding tutorials that integrate the cartoon characters and the free programming language, Scratch, in collaboration with the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab and the Scratch Foundation.
- Google is expanding its free computer science club program, CS First, to reach one million students in 2016. Google’s Made w/ Code initiative is also working to inspire more than 4 million teen girls to try coding this year. You can also access a Web page of resources, funding opportunities, and programs such as annual competitions.
- Code.org is offering computer science training, including free workshops for K-5 teachers! (You can find general information about their professional learning services here).
- In the fall of 2016, VHS will pilot a new, College Board approved, introductory college-level computer science course, AP Computer Science Principles. The course is designed to appeal to all students in grades 10-12, not just those interested in STEM subjects.
This initiative is a response to official estimates that the vast majority of STEM jobs will either be in computer science-related fields or require significant computational skills by the year 2018. That’s not too far away, so this “all hands on deck” approach is a good thing, and we’re proud to be part of it.
Those are the four game changers we spotted. How about you? Are there any policies or policy changes that excite you (or fill you with trepidation)? Share them in the Comments.
Want to stay up-to-date on the latest trends in education and technology? Subscribe to the Mimio Educator blog. You’ll also be among the first to get inside information from our product team and education advisors.