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ESSA: State Leaders Take Action in Support of Digital Learning


The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December coupled with the release of the 2016 National Educational Technology Plan (NETP) strives to push America’s education system forward in order to better prepare our students for college and careers in the digital age. Spread throughout ESSA is the prominent importance of technology and digital literacy as fundamental to improving academic achievement and renewing a national commitment to supporting digital learning.

ESSA features provisions focused on supporting and promoting the use of technology to improve academic achievement, academic growth, and digital literacy. For example, the new law authorizes the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, to study students’ home broadband access behaviors and needs. The new law also authorizes support for professional development opportunities designed to enhance capacity for educators and school leaders’ to use technology to support teaching and learning, while also strengthening technology infrastructure and program delivery.

States are beginning to tackle the challenges of implementation regarding the new law including launching the development of state ESSA plans and responding the ED’s Request for Information (RFI) for program guidance and implementation. Digital learning leaders across multiple departments including educational technology, instructional materials, assessment, professional learning and special education, are providing input into preparation of state applications with considerations for the flexibility to implement digital learning. Issues specific to ESSA include technical assistance, infrastructure, devices, blended learning, digital resources, professional development, technological needs assessment, developing consortiums, personalized learning and data security. SEAs and LEAs are encouraged to respond to all of ED’s RFIs related to ESSA to help support effective program implementation and guidance.

The time to take action is now! SETDA encourages our membership and leaders across State Education Agencies (SEA) to communicate and collaborate with one another to best understand how digital learning can support school improvement and professional learning. Your SETDA member is best positioned to provide guidance and share resources regarding effective and efficient implementation of digital tools and resources. Connect with your state’s SETDA leaders to learn more.


SETDA_CoSN_TitleI_RFI Public Comments

Guide to Implementing Digital Learning

Digital Instructional Materials Acquisition Policy for States

Shifting to digital – what is the story ?


Since SETDA’s seminal 2012 resource, Out of Print: Reimagining the K-12 Textbook in the Digital Age, traditionalists take comfort in the fact that in spite of proliferation of digital content and open educational resources, plus national and state groups supporting digital learning, these digital tools are still very, very slowly making their way into the classroom. Just why is this happening at such a slow pace? Well for one thing, the tradition of using hard copy textbooks is a contributing factor. Bound texts that align content to meet state standards are assumed to suffice. Next, the elements to support the transition to digital learning, including bandwidth, devices and teacher training can be barriers as schools and districts need time to transition budgets and to build the infrastructure to support digital learning. Lastly, the pressure on teachers to meet accreditation standards, as well as for students to meet learning standards, is another issue that does not foster an environment that encourages taking a chance on change.


SETDA believes that several key factors can be put in place to help increase the use of digital resources in the classroom. States should create and foster policies and procedures that are friendly to the identification, acquisition and use of these resources. In a 2015 survey, SETDA found that about 50% of states have put in place policies that offer flexibility for use, funding and acquisition of digital content.

In an effort to support the understanding of state policies and practices related to digital instructional materials, SETDA launched the Digital Instructional Materials Acquisitions for States (DMAPS) portal, a free online tool for educators, policy makers and the private sector. Site users will benefit from organized and accessible information regarding acquisition of digital instructional materials, including information about state guidance and policies, procurement, funding and digital learning resources for all 50 states, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Mariana Islands. SETDA hopes that as leaders consider updating or crafting new polices that they use the DMAPS tool to leverage the examples of policies and acquisition procedures that other states have put in place to support digital learning to best meet the individual needs of students. Site highlights include: a snapshot overview of policies/practices for each state, the ability to identify state trends and to compare states plus district exemplars. A national report, which complements this work and identifies national trends, will be released on October 26, 2015 at SETDA’s annual, invitation only Leadership Summit.

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 1.14.51 PMThe DMAPS tool is one important step in making it easier for state leaders to show the way forward and recognize the importance of digital resources to student learning. Would calling it a “catalyst” be too strong? I think not. Stay tuned.

ConnectED – Back to School Update


connected_initiative_logoConnectED’s focus of fostering a robust ecosystem for digital learning and empowering teachers and their students with enhanced personalized learning experiences is a goal long championed by SETDA. Launched in June 2013, President Obama unveiled the ConnectED initiative to “enrich K-12 education for every student in America.” Then in February 2014, the President announced more than $750 million in commitments from seven private sector companies to deliver cutting-edge technologies to the classroom. Since then, a total of over $2 billion in commitments from leading technology companies has been dedicated to support the aims of the ConnectED initiative and advance student learning through technology. Schools and districts across the nation are tapping into these generous resources to provide increased access to digital tools and resources.

SETDA’s Support Along the Way

As the ConnectED initiative rolled out, SETDA has focused on sharing details about the program with our members and the greater educational community, including blog posts and social media support. On June 28, 2014, SETDA hosted the Connected Private Sector Showcase, which was the first of its kind in the nation, to provide all participating ConnectED companies with a venue to share further details about their commitments and participation requirements. See for a video archive of the presentations. Last September SETDA hosted a ConnectED Back-to-School Webinar that was a follow up to ConnectED Private Sector Showcase from June. The sharing of resources continued in October 2014, as Symbloo EDU, one of SETDA’s private sector partners, created a webmix of ConnectED resources for schools, teachers and students, which is available here: SETDA also maintains a list of the ConnectED offerings here.

Several of SETDA’s private sector partners are actively participating in this initiative and continue to provide tremendous resources for schools, teachers, and students nationwide.

To highlight their commitments, recent updates have been summarized below:

att_websiteConnectED Commitment: AT&T committed to provide 50,000 students and teachers in Title 1 schools with $100 million of free mobile broadband access for educational devices, mobile device management, network filtering and teacher professional development for three years for each selected school. AT&T mobile broadband service will enable students to utilize tablets and potentially other mobile devices for educational purposes that support student learning in new and more effective ways. The company will provide:

  • 4G mobile broadband data services for student access to learning-based websites, applications, and services;
  • Mobile device management to provide a highly secure environment on devices;
  • Filtering software to protect access, safety and security of students;
  • Solution integration for schools to support device configuration, logistics and care services; and
  • Training for teachers and administrators on effective ways to integrate this solution into classrooms and learning.

Connected Nation will administer the application and selection process on behalf of AT&T. Connected Nation is an independent, non-profit organization focused on promoting the power of broadband and related technology to energize the economy, transform communities, and improve lives. For More Information:


ConnectED Commitment: Apple has pledged $100 million in iPads, MacBooks, and other products along with content and professional development to enrich learning in disadvantaged schools, including interactive learning tools and ongoing support that can have a profound impact for students and teachers in the communities that need it most. For More Information:


ConnectED Commitment: Esri offers to all US K12 schools (public, non-public, and homeschool) a professional ArcGIS Online Organization subscription, plus instructional materials, links to mentors, and connection to a community of GIS-using educators. These accounts let students and educators investigate the world with unlimited content from professionals; build, save, and share maps about any topic; design and program custom apps; conduct robust analyses; and access content anytime, anywhere, on any connected device. These are powerful learning environments for high schools, middle schools, and even elementary schools. Getting started is easy, and many GIS professionals around the country are anxious to help local schools use GIS. For More Information:

Microsoft_logo_websiteConnectED Commitment: Together with our Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) partners, Microsoft created a new offer to all U.S. K-12 public schools to connect 99 percent of America’s students to the digital age within five years. We’ve designed this offer to include options for schools of all sizes and with varying levels of need for technology and services. In addition, because the devices included in the offer are available at a lower price point, cost is much less of a barrier for schools that want to give their students the best technology has to offer. We believe that schools across the U.S. need more than a single offer and reduced prices to benefit beyond cloud services and devices; they also need access to programs and resources in order to meet the needs of our students and our future. The offer includes:

Districts and schools are encouraged to contact their local technology reseller or Microsoft representative today to get started. For email requests please contact: [email protected]

SprintBusiness-300 Through Sprint’s in-kind support of ConnectED, up to 50,000 K-12 students across the U.S. will be able to take advantage of their school’s digital learning curriculum and resources outside the classroom. Educational institutions, school districts, and certain public housing authorities can apply to receive up to four years of Sprint high-speed wireless broadband connectivity to support off-campus digital learning. Participating schools will be selected based on a comprehensive process that will assess, among other factors, applicants’ current 1:1 digital learning program and off-campus strategy, and the availability of Sprint  service in their surrounding market. In addition, selected schools may purchase discounted digital broadband devices from Sprint for students’  connectivity away from school. With each line having access to 3GB monthly of Sprint’s wireless data service, participating students can obtain extended and engaging digital instruction in subjects such as math, science, arts and foreign languages, innovative learning resources, and additional access to critical on-line course tools.

For More Information: To learn more about Sprint’s rich history of providing and supporting digital literacy and education platforms visit:

For more information about the ConnectEd Initiative or the new Connect Home Initiative visit:

State Examplars: How are states demonstrating leadership in digital learning ?

“Alabama is honored to be featured in SETDA’s Digital Learning Exemplars paper as helping to lead the way in digital transformation due to work already underway.”

Dr. Tommy Bice, State Superintendent of Education, Alabama

“This paper provides collaborative expertise and shared state examples that will benefit educators throughout the state.”

Glenda Ritz, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Indiana

SETDA_FI_Paper_cover_small[1]SETDA and the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at NC State University College of Education recently co-released the national report, State Digital Learning Exemplars: Highlights from states leading change through policies and funding. Both organizations are eager to share examples of states, districts and schools that are making investments in devices, bandwidth, networking, training and especially digital content to further engage and align k-12 student learning with expectations for college and careers.

The report provides details of the elements of digital learning leadership, highlights exemplar states that have shown progress in all elements and provides examples of their progress. Other states that have made positive steps forward in one or more elements are also highlighted.

This paper provides examples of states with policies in support of five key elements:

  • On-going funding streams and policies that support innovation;
  • Availability, promotion and use of digital content;
  • Development of human capacity to effectively use digital resources in the learning;
  • Well planned network infrastructure that facilitates access;
  • Use of data for decision making while protecting student privacy.

The primary audience for State Digital Learning Exemplars is senior leadership at the state level for whom the report can provide:

  • guidance to help create a statewide vision and plan for digital learning;
  • examples of other states current practices that could be adapted to support a states vision and plan;
  • affirmation that part/or all of a states approach has been successfully implemented in other states.

Leaders can use the five elements and state exemplars in discussions with legislators, boards of education, colleagues, district leaders and staff, constituencies and the press to help each better understand the states vision and plan for digital learning, build by-in and support and most importantly – lay the groundwork for increased student learning opportunities.

Take a few moments to review this resource and share the link and press release with your colleagues.

You can also view more resources like this by signing up for the EdTech Update.

New Educational Technology Program (ITECH) Included in Reauthorization Bill


“SETDA, and the state members it serves, are very appreciative of the approval of this bipartisan ITECH amendment. Our members are ready to take a leadership role in implementing provisions of the grant when the final step occurs. We thank Senators Baldwin (D-WI) and Hatch (R-UT) for their vision, cooperative approach and understanding of the value of using technology to improve education.”

Lan Neugent, Interim Executive Director, SETDA

On April 16, the Senate HELP Committee, unanimously passed the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 (ECAA) bill, icapitol_300x300n an effort to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – the next step in reauthorization. Included in this bill is the Innovative Technology Expands Technology Expands Children’s Horizons (ITECH), a new educational technology state grants program. This amendment is key to ensuring a strong commitment to providing digital learning experiences for students and includes tremendous support for professional learning and encourages the use of open education resources. ITECH represents important progress toward greater recognition of digital learning in federal education law and policy.

This is just the first step toward Congressional reauthorization of ESEA. The next steps will be an introduction of the bill to the Senate floor, where members will introduce additional amendments and there will be debate. If the bill passes, then it moves to the House, where the process begins again. SETDA will continue to monitor progress of ESEA reauthorization to keep you posted on additional progress. In the meantime, SETDA encourages educators to follow #SETDA, #ECAA, #ESEA and #ITECH via social media and to continue to share positive stories of positive digital learning experiences that best prepare students for college and careers.

Net Neutrality Update

FCC Chairman Wheeler yesterday proposed new rules for net neutrality that, if approved, will reclassify the Internet as a telecommunication service. This will allow the FCC to regulate under the 1934 Communications Act which covers all public utilities including telephones. The change will give the FCC regulatory authority over both wired and wireless services  Passage will likely ensure that providers do not create fast and slow lanes on the Internet. A vote is scheduled for February 26th and passage is considered likely due to a majority of members favoring passage and support from President Obama.


Revised EETT included in Obama Administration Budget Request

On February 2, the Obama Administration’s 2016 education budget request included $200M for a revised version of the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) grant program. As many of you know, the EETT program launched in 2001 with $675M, funding was reduced in increments over multiple years and was last funded in 2010 for $100M. Although this is a positive step for states and educational technology, the federal budget process is complicated and includes House and Senate appropriations bills that may or may not include this program, budget negotiations and then a final budget. SETDA will work to keep the membership informed regarding this process and share opportunities for states to share successful educational technology programs.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED), Office of Educational Technology’s website includes details regarding potential program revisions. Suggested new appropriations language includes:

  • requiring SEAs to award 100 percent of subgrant funds competitively
  • targeting subgrant awards to applicants with existing technology capacity, including connectivity and devices
  • promoting evidence-based practices
  • limiting local spending on hardware
  • ensuring that all states are able to reserve sufficient funds to support meaningful state-level activities

Additional details regarding the program request and an overview of proposed changes to the EETT program are available here For more information on the full education budget request, review the full press release and ED’s Budget Fact Sheet.

SETDA will share additional information regarding this process as it is available.

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