TCEA 2017 Legislative Priorities
The future is now. According to Project Tomorrow’s 2015 survey, 86% of ninth through twelfth graders, 72% of sixth through eighth graders, and 46% of third and fourth graders are smartphone users. In addition, 76% of students think a mobile device is necessary to support their learning.
Today’s students know they can use their mobile devices to access web applications and create knowledge rather than just consume information. Applications such as Skype and Google Hangouts offer teachers and students the opportunity to communicate with authors and experts, bringing relevance and authenticity to the classroom. Students can also enroll in online courses that might otherwise be unavailable to them. And media-rich digital content, including video, sound, web-enabled links, online assessment, and spaces for peer-to-peer collaboration, provides enhanced learning experiences.
Students in districts without adequate broadband capacity and/or have limited access to digital devices and tools are at a distinct disadvantage. Not only do they have fewer options in terms of access to content; they are unable to develop the technical skills associated with navigating the Internet and creating knowledge online. While students with reliable broadband and access to rich, interactive content are developing digital footprints that prove their knowledge and skills and increase their academic credibility, those without connectivity are left behind. This inequity could have serious, long-term implications for the economic health of communities and the overall productivity of our state’s workforce.
I. Broadband Connectivity
Develop and implement a plan to provide ubiquitous broadband service that meets or exceeds the FCC broadband targets for all Texas schools by leveraging federal and state funding, existing fiber infrastructure, regional networks, and the construction of additional fiber where needed.
The demand for broadband connectivity in Texas schools has dramatically increased in recent years, taxing many districts’ networks. However, a number of factors limit the options school districts have for addressing inadequate Internet connectivity. Several findings in the Education SuperHighway (ESH) Connectivity Report for the State of Texas (April, 2016) elucidate these challenges:
- 36% of Texas school districts and 55% of Texas students do not meet the minimum Internet access goal of 100 kbps per student.
- Texas school districts are paying more than double the national average for Internet access at $24 per Gbps as compared to $11 nationally.
- 16% of Texas school districts do not have any fiber connections to the Internet.
In addition, the ESH website indicates that only 5% of Texas school districts are meeting the 2018 FCC connectivity targets.
TCEA has identified several challenges that districts face in acquiring affordable and scalable broadband:
- There is no coordinated, statewide vision or plan ensuring that districts in all areas of Texas have access to affordable broadband.
- Fiber is the only technology that can offer affordable, scalable broadband; however, the cost of installation and the rate of return on the investment limits the incentive for companies to install fiber in communities that are geographically remote.
- In underserved areas, the cost of broadband limits school district and community access to resources that are considered the norm in Texas districts that have adequate access.’
- The installation and maintenance of a Wi-Fi network that is robust enough to handle the demands of every student and teacher accessing digital content simultaneously is a challenge for many districts.
- A large percentage of students still do not have access to the Internet outside of school. In January 2016, schools and libraries lost the HB 2128 (74 R) telecommunication discounts, resulting in increased costs for broadband access.
- Identify an agency/entity which will coordinate efforts to ensure that all schools have access to affordable and scalable broadband.
- Coordinate the E-rate efforts of schools and districts to maximize the discounts available and provide funding for the 10% state match offered by the FCC.
- Determine which network model aggregates the demand so that the market will naturally provide affordable access for each district and develop a plan to implement this network model.
- Provide funding for internal Wi-Fi networks
II. Leadership in Managing Change
The state should establish a clear vision and plan for the use of technology in teaching and learning that is supported at the state and local levels.
There is no clear direction given by the legislature or TEA on how or when districts should move to digital learning. The Long-Range Plan for Technology, which gave districts direction for several decades, has not been updated since 2006. Districts are no longer required by law to write and follow technology plans.
- There is no state-coordinated vision for the implementation of digital learning.
- A transition to digital learning requires a tremendous amount of planning and coordination and leadership starting at the superintendent level.
- Update the Long-Range Plan for Technology. Updates should be conducted at least every four years.
- Require school districts to have a technology plan that is tied to the goals and objectives of the state’s Long-Range Plan for Technology, including a plan for transitioning to digital materials.
- TEA should lead and support districts in achieving the goals of the Long-Range Plan for Technology.
- The state should develop a specific plan to build leadership capacity in districts to assist in their shift to digital learning.
Develop a funding model that would enable school districts to establish a sustainable technology implementation.
The Instructional Materials Allotment (IMA) was created by the 82nd(1) Legislature as a dual-purpose allotment that would fund the purchase of instructional materials and technology. However, since 2011, IMA expenditures on technology have dropped by 50% so that in 2015-2017, only 8.22% of IMA dollars were spent on technology.
|wdt_ID||Biennium Comparison||Expenditures on Instructional Materials||Percentage Spent on Instructional Materials||Expenditures Spent on Technology||Percentage Spent on Technology|
**Includes the carry over
In order to delve into why districts have not utilized the IMA as a funding source of technology, TCEA conducted a survey in April 2016. The following are some of the results of the survey:
- 19% of respondents indicated their district would spend $30 a student or more from the IMA on technology resources in the 2016-2017 school year, whereas 21% indicated they would spend $0. (The Technology Allotment, eliminated in SB 6, was roughly $30 a student).
- Of those who indicated they would spend less than $30 a student from the IMA, 43% indicated they were saving for the 2017 proclamation (2017-2018 school year), 12% indicated their district had a lack of vision for the use of technology, and 6% said they were saving for a large technology deployment.
- When asked how often they used the IMA to purchase technology resources, 28% said they always used the IMA for technology purchases, 49% indicated they rarely did so, and 24% said they never used the fund for technology purchases.
- 44% of the respondents indicated that their district always included technology staff in the decision-making process for the use of the fund, 32% said they are sometimes included, and 24% indicated they are never included.
- Change the name of the Instructional Materials Allotment to Instructional Materials and Technology Allotment so that it is clear that this fund is to be utilized for both instructional materials and technology.
- Increase the amount of funding available for the Technology Lending grant to enable more districts to utilize those funds. It is currently funded at $10 million from the IMA.
- Increase the amount utilized for technology in the Instructional Materials Allotment.
IV. Professional Development
Provide strategies that will develop a teaching force skilled in online and blended instruction.
Roughly half of surveyed teachers report lack of training is one of the biggest barriers to incorporating technology into their teaching. In a recent survey of principals, 57% concur with the teachers. Although expert teachers have always worked to enable students to master required knowledge and skills, teachers today must now also be able to determine which technologies can best support the learning process. This is not an easy transition for many teachers. This problem was compounded by budget cuts in 2011, when many districts eliminated positions that provided professional development on the effective use of technology for instructional purposes.
- Update the Technology Proficiency Standards for teachers and administrators required for certification and recertification (last updated in 2000).
- Require teachers to annually assess their level of digital proficiency and develop a personal professional development plan to make self-identified improvements.
- Annually require educators to participate in a minimum of eight hours of professional learning experiences powered by technology to increase their digital literacy and enable them to create compelling learning activities that improve learning and teaching, assessment, and instructional practices.
V. Teaching and Learning Tools
Ensure that every student and educator has at least one Internet-accessible device and appropriate software and resources for research, communication, multimedia content creation, and collaboration for use in and out of school.
Many school districts have recognized the opportunities associated with digital learning. They are using mobile devices in classrooms to engage students with media-rich content and enhance learning experiences. These districts realize that transforming the learning paradigm is fundamental to providing students with the education they need to compete in a global, technology-driven economy; however, they often face one or more of the following challenges
- Many schools have not transitioned to the use of high-quality digital learning content and tools that can be used to design and deliver engaging and relevant learning experiences.
- As districts begin to utilize more and more digital content, the lack of interoperability and account management standards has resulted in an exorbitant amount of staff time that is required to manage these resources.
- Many schools do not provide access to mobile devices that connect learners and educators to the vast resources of the Internet and facilitate communication and collaboration.
- Develop and implement strategies that assist districts in the adoption and implementation of digital materials.
- Require districts to consider Open Education Resources (OER) during the instructional materials adoption process, including any cost savings associated.
- Adopt interoperability standards for digital materials purchased with the IMA.
- Incentivize the creation and sharing of high-quality open education and teacher created resources that align to our standards
Allow districts to use the IMA to create instructional materials, including but not limited to paying teachers a stipend.
VI. Student Data Privacy
Ensure that a student’s personal information and data are used only for their intended educational purposes and that districts and vendors have policies and practices in place that will protect a student’s privacy.
Student data can be used to drive effective instruction and personalize education. While the use of student data can provide tremendous benefits, we must ensure appropriate safeguards are put into place to protect student privacy. Although technology is a powerful tool for teaching and learning, it is imperative that students’ personal information be protected at all times.
- Educational institutions and contracted service providers with access to student data, including researchers, should have clear, publicly available rules and guidelines for how they collect, use, safeguard, and destroy the data.
- Everyone who has access to students’ personal information should be trained and know how to effectively and ethically use, protect, and secure it.
- Any educational institution with the authority to collect and maintain student personal information should develop policies and procedures regarding data collection, use, access, sharing, and security of this information.
VII. Computer Science
Increase the number of students taking a computer science-related course by providing weighted funding for these courses and additional professional development for teachers.
Computer science skills are in high demand in the job market. By 2020, there will be 1,000,000 more computing jobs than graduates available to fill them, resulting in a $500 billion opportunity gap. We are not currently preparing our students to take advantage of these opportunities. Less than 2% of all Texas high school students took a computer science course for each of the last five years.
Districts struggle to find qualified teachers to lead these courses because the salaries for skilled computer scientists are extremely competitive and most receive their certification through an alternative certification program. As of December 10, 2015, 159 teachers had a computer science certification through the alternative certification program compared to seven through the standard
There are two curriculum strands in which computer science and technology-related courses are taught. Those in Career and Technical Education (CTE) receive weighted funding, while those in Technology Applications do not. Computer Science and the more academic computational thinking courses are in the Technology Applications curriculum. These courses have the same need for technical equipment and additional teacher training as those in the CTE strand.
- Provide weighted funding for all technology-related courses, including those that are currently in the Technology Applications strand. Move the 9-12 Technology Applications courses into CTE.
- The State Board of Education should be given the authority to review and align the courses, eliminate duplicate standards, and ensure that the level of rigor matches the purpose for each course.
- Provide additional funding for teacher professional development to equip existing certified teachers with the latest information for this rapidly evolving field and assist teachers to acquire the certification.
- Develop a long-term strategy of teaching all students (K-12) computational thinking skills.