Digital Learning Considerations as States Implement the American Rescue Plan

K-12

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This guest post comes from Ji Soo Song, senior policy advisor at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Views expressed in guest posts are those of the author.

As vaccinations continue across the country — and especially with the news that 12- to 15-year-olds can now be vaccinated — the K-12 education system is gearing up for what’s next. This upcoming phase includes choosing appropriate learning models for the summer and the next school year.

The Federal Communications Commission announced the rollout of funds to further narrow the digital divide, and districts expect a “much wider array of remote learning options available” in the future; therefore the potential for expansion of learning models enabled through technology is higher than ever before. 

Implications of the American Rescue Plan for Digital Learning 

A major question for education leaders to address is how to ensure that the use of technology in schools following remote learning amounts to more than students passively consuming digitally delivered information. Fortunately, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) provides a large infusion of flexible funds into the K-12 system — through dedicated dollars for education and additional aid for state and local governments — to improve and make sustainable the quality of digital learning experiences.

Given that the U.S. Department of Education recently requested the submission of ARPA implementation plans, how can states support schools in implementing technology for effective learning going forward?  

Provide guidance on how educators can use technology to design and deliver effective learning experiences.  

Educators note that their use of technology for learning will increase following the pandemic. In collaboration with educators, parents and students, states can develop guidance around best practices that promote active learning and engagement opportunities. For instance, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) partnered with the California Department of Education to develop guidance with an emphasis on research-based strategies for student empowerment, which was unanimously adopted by the state board. 

Collect data on educator supports to identify where additional aid may be needed.  

The ARPA state plan template from the U.S. Department of Education notes that states must collect information on “educator access to professional development on the effective use of technology.” In addition to general professional development opportunities that educators receive regularly, what other information may help track capacity building efforts and drive supports to the most critical sites?  

As one example, ISTE, working with the Title IV-A Coalition (a coalition of national organizations advocating for the full funding and effective implementation of the federal Title IV-A grant), recently submitted comments on how federal agencies may evaluate the effectiveness of Title IV-A programs, and those metrics may also be relevant for ARPA implementation. This includes collecting data on the number of educators achieving credentials (including certifications and endorsements) on the effective use of technology, as well as the number of instructional technology specialists and coaches who aid in building capacity across multiple sites.  

Invest ARPA education funds into educator capacity building efforts.  

ARPA allows for a wide range of fund usage, including increasing capacity for effective technology use. How can states creatively leverage their own ARPA allocations? In the past, states like Wyoming have leveraged their allocations under Titles II-A and IV-A of the Every Student Succeeds Act to develop partnerships and create a cohort of ISTE-certified educators at the state level.  

As education leaders confront the fact that learning models outside of traditional, face-to-face programs may continue to expand, equity concerns also compound. States can take strategic steps, including some of the aforementioned considerations, to ensure that all forms of learning deliver adequate opportunities for students to grow as empowered, lifelong learners.  

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