During the 2013 General Assembly session I introduced HB2286 requiring that school divisions report to the State Department of Education the number of broadband-connected schools and the number of computers in those schools. The purpose of this data collection is to develop a statewide picture of the capability of Virginia’s K-12 public school systems to employ electronic textbooks equitably, both within a given school system as well as throughout the state.
This long-standing reporting requirement was eliminated by the McDonnell administration in 2011, resulting in a decline in reports filed in 2012 from 91% to 11% of school systems participating.
The “Digital Divide”—i.e. the disparity in technology access among children attending Virginia public schools, which puts many low income, immigrant, and rural families at significant disadvantage—is an insidious barrier to effective, efficient and, equitable public education. As Delegate representing the 38th District, where the digital divide is clearly evident, I am determined to focus a bright light on the need for accurate data on technology access and other technology factors to meet the needs of all Virginia public school students, including students from low income families, who make up 40% of Virginia’s total public school population.
The current administration’s action in 2011 has already had consequences. Because we have no reliable statewide data, Virginia has been unable to participate knowledgeably in national conversations about the use of electronic resources in the classroom or in the rewriting of applicable sections of the No Child Left Behind Act. Our lack of data has also limited our ability to apply for IT education-related grants. Further, Commonwealth oversight agencies have not been able to monitor and advise localities about the equitable implementation of e-texts. Unfortunately, right here in Fairfax County we have examples of e-text roll-outs that have exacerbated the achievement gap between children from low income families and children from more affluent families.
HB2286 did not come to a vote last session, but was sent for study to the Joint Committee on Technology & Science (JCOTS). I was asked to participate in an Education Advisory Committee to JCOTS to consider the issues raised by my bill and related bills submitted by other legislators. I was also asked to suggest others who would be willing to assist the Advisory Committee. In order to obtain the broadest possible input and expertise, I established a Task Force here in Fairfax County to consider the challenges of: (1) appropriate data collection by school divisions; (2) the larger problem of the Digital Divide; and, (3) the increasing role of digital education in public schools.
I received an enthusiastic response from prospective volunteers, which included interested teachers, concerned parents and community education advocates, many with significant technology backgrounds. The Task Force worked over the summer to develop a series of recommendations, which were presented to the JCOTS Advisory Committee at its November meeting. We have not, as yet, received a response to our recommendations, but I am summarizing them below.
The Task Force based its recommendations on the following principles: (1) Digital Citizenship should be included in education standards; (2) Digital content is changing and becoming more universally available; (3) Measurement of access to technology is important; (3) Equal access to required educational resources is critical; (4) Research and Development should be encouraged; (5) Digital technology and content enhance existing educational methodologies.
Accordingly, the Task Force recommended the following: (1) Require the State Board of Education to develop standards of quality for Digital Citizenship as part of a complete public education; (2) Approve legislation to test Open Education Resources; (3) Approve legislation to measure student access, both inside and outside of school, to the internet and any required educational content and materials; and (4) Schools that use digital education resources should strive to ensure all students have adequate access to required content and materials inside and outside of school.
I would like to publicly thank the entire Task Force for their diligence, expertise and passionate engagement on this truly important issue. I would be happy to share the more detailed text of Task Force recommendations with interested parties.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at DelKKory@house.virginia.gov.