As the rate of COVID-19 vaccinations accelerate, increasing numbers of students are returning to in-person classrooms. With the end of the global pandemic on the horizon, educators and leaders are reflecting on the national disruption that caused a complete transformation of education for over a year.
More students have access to a learning device and connection to the internet than ever before, empowering educators to better differentiate instruction and foster partnerships with parents and caregivers. How do we build on this momentum to ensure that we maximize the returns on current spending on infrastructure and help educators double down on technology-enabled practices that lead to more effective and equitable learning outcomes?
Fortunately, legislators in Congress recently passed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), which provides over $170 billion for education, $125 billion of which is dedicated for K-12 education. This represents the largest, single investment in U.S. schools (compare that to the entire U.S. Department of Education budget of $68 billion).
States and districts are required by ARPA to set aside a percentage of these funds to address specific issues like learning loss. However, similar to previous stimulus bills, a majority of the dollars can be flexibly invested into a wide range of allowable uses. With this opportunity in mind, how can state and local education leaders think about the best ways to spend the new funds in ways that not only address immediate educator capacity needs, but also improve digital teaching and learning for the long term?
In February, ISTE held a webinar titled, “What Does It Mean for Schools to Be Digitally Ready in 2021 and Beyond?” Joined by a panel of state and district leaders, ISTE shared three key strategies that education leaders can consider as they strategize uses of existing and new education stimulus dollars toward efforts that prepare all educators for the future of education.
A recent national survey from Educators for Excellence found that educators are asking for professional development support when it comes to using technology to facilitate student engagement, adapt curricula, provide social and emotional support, and connect with parents and caregivers. Education leaders can invest in opportunities to build all educators’ foundational knowledge in such areas. For example, ISTE’s Online Teaching Academy offers a series of microcourses that address a range of topics, including community building in digital spaces and intentional design of learning opportunities.
A recent RAND study found that professional development opportunities over the summer can help improve educator practice, potentially due to the reduction in competing demands like pacing and testing requirements. Therefore, leaders can think about summer 2021 as a critical time to reinforce educators’ knowledge of effective digital learning practices and prepare for the upcoming school year. For example, ISTE’s Summer Learning Academy, which helped train over 17,000 educators nationwide in 2020, offers a great way that states can effectively leverage the summer months to prepare for the following school year and beyond.
Instructional technology specialists, edtech coaches and teacher leaders involved in sharing knowledge about effective, technology-empowered practices have been critical in guiding the transition to new learning models during COVID-19. In ensuring that these educators are equipped with knowledge about how to use technology in active ways, ISTE provides the ISTE Certification for Educators program, a competency-based, pedagogy-focused certification based on the ISTE Standards for Educators. The Wyoming Department of Education recently created a state cohort of 100 ISTE Certified educators as a core component of their capacity building efforts.
Due to the impact of COVID-19, national experts already expect that the future of education is likely to be characterized by an expansion of the use of technology. The time is now for state and local education leaders to be the catalyst to ensuring that all educators are equipped with the resources necessary to implement effective digital learning practices — in online, blended or face-to-face environments.
Ji Soo Song is a senior policy advisor at ISTE. He leads research, analysis and communication of federal, state and local policy issues related to digital learning standards, educator credentialing systems and professional development funding streams.