This week President Trump called on Congress to pass a bill that increases school choice. This position by the President is no surprise as he appointed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos who has devoted her philanthropic efforts towards school choice, especially in the Detroit area and since her appointment has included advocacy for school choice in her public remarks.
School choice advocates often think of choice in terms of choosing between individual schools as noted in the President’s speech, “These families should be able to choose the public, private, magnet, charter, religious, or home school that is right for them.” And in urban and some suburban areas, these individual school choice can be a possibility because there are enough students in the area to provide critical mass to multiple schools. However, roughly 72% of the geography in the United States is rural. In these areas, putting enough students together to fill one school requires covering a large geographic area and therefore school choice by creating additional schools is simply not practical in those areas.
I would challenge Congress along with the President and Secretary DeVos, to shift their thinking to how we can empower our current schools to provide greater choice and personalization within current schools rather than creating a brand new school.
This is where educational technology comes in. By leveraging digital learning tools and resources, current schools can provide students with choices in courses, pace, learning modality, content, assessment, and demonstration of mastery. This does not happen by simply replacing legacy teaching methods and resources with digital versions. Rather, teachers, leaders, students, and schools have to be free to rethink how learning will take place for students with varied learning styles and then plan for the content, devices, and infrastructure needed to implement effective and efficient learning plans.
State, district, and school leaders must collaborate to determine what policy and funding shifts need to take place to give schools the ability to implement this within school choice. SETDA recommends that Congress should:
- Support E-rate so that schools and districts can maximize the high quality broadband needed to leverage digital learning opportunities
- Treat Internet access as infrastructure so that it is available to every home along with electricity, plumbing, and access to roads
- Fund the Title IV(a) SSAE Grant fully to provide funding for human capacity building to help educators build their skill sets to implement personalized/digital learning models
- Incentivize qualified individuals to become teachers
If we shift our thinking away from the dichotomy of either protecting the current school status quo OR building alternative schools, we can truly rethink how we leverage the technologies currently available to change the way teachers teach and students learn to best meet the needs of all learners.