Federal investment in digital learning is crucial

As another school year winds down and our students gear up for their summer break, school systems nationwide are already preparing for a major shift beginning next fall: the implementation of new technology-powered assessments.

Fostering the success of our nation’s students – the next generation of innovators, educators, entrepreneurs, policymakers and out-of-the-box thinkers – depends squarely on the investments we make today to narrow the educational equity gap. That will require investments in our schools’ technological readiness to implement these assessments, which will directly improve instruction and, ultimately, lift student achievement.

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Currently, many K-12 schools and districts – particularly those serving low-income students – lack the technology infrastructure and digital learning tools necessary to fully support and maximize the benefits of instruction under new college- and career-ready state standards.

To ensure that all schools can acquire and access the technologies needed to power new methods of assessment and instruction, the U.S. Department of Education’s fiscal year 2015 budget should include targeted federal investments in technology.

The moment is now.

The need is so great that five leading national education associations recently urged Congress and the administration to provide funding to support states and school districts as they transition to online assessments. In a letter to the leaders of the Senate and House Appropriations subcommittees on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and related agencies, the groups – including CoSN (Consortium for School Networking) and the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) – wrote:

“We cannot wait any longer to upgrade the digital learning infrastructure needed for new assessment systems. … State and local leaders are taking steps to address communities’ troubling education technology gaps, but timely federal support is needed to supplement their investments and support the national transition to dramatically improved assessments and other aligned education reforms.”

The sense of urgency cannot be understated, as implementation of new technology-powered assessments will begin at scale in a mere month’s time. 

Technology enables more innovative approaches to assessments – from technology-enhanced items to adaptive algorithms. These more sophisticated approaches will also enable fewer assessments, so that more time can be focused on instruction.

Unfortunately, Congress has not appropriated education technology funding for several fiscal years. That leaves many cash-strapped school districts scrambling for the technology they need to deliver online assessments and support high-quality instruction at this critical moment of national education reform. 

Advancing educational equity and excellence now and in the future depends in part on promoting digital equity. Technology can help us make assessment systems more educationally sound, accessible, and affordable. Without new federal funding to achieve this goal, students will lack the hardware, learning tools and educational resources that support richer, deeper, more personalized instruction. Similarly, without new investments in technology funding, educators will lack the full capability to validate our students’ acquisition of college, career and civic readiness knowledge and skills. 

Congress and the administration have an opportunity to invest in America’s future and, ultimately, in our future innovators, educators, entrepreneurs, policymakers and out-of-the-box thinkers. The time for action is now. We cannot let another school year pass.

Krueger is CEO, of CoSN (Consortium for School Networking); Amundson is executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE).

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