Last week, the Aspen Institute Task Force on Learning and the Internet concluded its year-long analysis of how young people learn today and how to optimize learning and innovation within a trusted environment. The resulting report – Learner at the Center of a Networked World – provides a comprehensive list of recommendations for schools, government, parents, businesses, and nonprofits that will help put each American student at the center of his or her education world.
But, as the report thoughtfully points out, this exciting new vision of education is not possible until all of our students have access to high-capacity broadband.
That’s where the federal E-Rate program comes in.
Since 1997, the E-Rate program has provided financial support to connect schools and libraries to the Internet. And, thanks to the program, nearly every school in the United States now has at least basic Internet access. Unfortunately, most schools do not have the broadband capacity to support the digital curricular materials, online and blended learning programs, and online assessments that are required to place our students at the center of a “networked world,” as the Aspen Task Force promises.
That’s why the Aspen Task Force “strongly supports” the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) ongoing efforts to modernize and reform the E-Rate program to provide more schools and libraries with high-capacity broadband connections. This support is informed by having three former FCC Commissioners, who have wrestled with how to use various policy levers to accelerate broadband build-out to schools and underserved areas, serve on the Task Force.
The Task Force also reinforces the work of ExcelinEd, through its Digital Learning Now initiative, in not just advancing digital learning opportunities, but also the broadband reforms needed to enable them.
Working with beneficiaries of the program and next-generation education thought leaders, we joined the Council of Chief State School Officers (CSSO), the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), the Clay Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, the Alliance for Excellent Education, and the Knowledge Alliance to argue for a series of common sense reforms. Together, these reforms will make the program work better for schools and libraries:
For example, Florida Virtual School, (FLVS) the leading online school in the nation, submitted comments noting that “while the total telecommunications and ISP costs to support FLVS were more than $53 million in the 2008-09 school year, the E-rate reimbursement was only $5,237. In other words, while FLVS’s entire instructional model is built around broadband, the E-rate only reimbursed 0.01% of the total broadband and telecommunication costs incurred by students, teachers, and the school.”
Digital Learning Now also recently joined over 100 school districts, digital learning advocates, businesses, civil rights organizations, and education reform organizations in a consensus letter calling for E-Rate reform focused on modernization, simplification, and fiscal discipline.
Last Friday, the FCC took an important first step toward reform and modernization when Tom Wheeler circulated to his fellow Commissioners a draft proposal. In part of two of this post, we’ll discuss the proposal as well as our recommendations for ensuring that the E-Rate program continues to help schools achieve the student-centered learning model envisioned by the Aspen Task Force.
This blog post first appeared on InsideSources.com.
Read part 2 of this blog post here.