News Highlights: While schools limp through COVID, the Technology Alliance urges preparations for the next disaster
Distance education in Iowa in December 2020. (Phil Roeder / Creative Commons)
It’s common knowledge that COVID-19 has been largely disastrous for schools, but the numbers behind that claim are still quite shocking.
There are about 1.1 million elementary school students in Washington State’s public schools, and an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 lack adequate, reliable Internet access. The state needs 200,000 computers and tablets to give every student access to these essential electronics – and that’s after federal funds allowed Washington state to buy 64,000 devices last fall.
Half of the children in Washington are on a low income and 44% are eligible for a free or reduced lunch at their school. The digital divide hits these families hardest.
Numerous organizations and initiatives are trying to close these gaps for students who come past the year of a year since schools transitioned to distance education.
While those efforts focus on the here and now, on Tuesday, the Seattle-based Technology Alliance shared his plan for preparing for the next disaster to close school doors. In a report called “Learning from calamities”, the tech-empowering nonprofit outlined five focus areas:
- Provide remote internet access for all students and teachers.
- Issue a digital educational device to all students and teachers at the beginning of each school year.
- Prepare teachers for remote instruction and districts help create remote lesson plans for each school.
- Provide IT support to teachers, students and families.
- Improve communication between schools and families, with specific plans for information sharing in the case of distance education.
Technology Alliance CEO Laura Ruderman acknowledged that it can be difficult to contemplate a future catastrophe while our lives are still so turned upside down by COVID, but said it is essential to do so.
If we wait to act, she said, “we will forget the pain of this moment and it will seem less important to prepare for the next time. So we want to take this pressure point and use it to get some momentum to prepare.
Laura Ruderman, CEO of the Technology Alliance. (Technology Alliance Photo)
“And if you look at our report, many of our recommendations that better prepare us for the next time also see that we can better serve children today – whether they’re in school or not,” said Ruderman.
To create the document, it must be Technology Alliance has convened a 50-person task force that is a who’s who of Northwestern educators and tech leaders in the public, private, and non-profit spaces. It included Dreambox Learning CEO Jessie Wooley-Wilson, Technology Access to the Foundation’s Trish Millines-Dzikoko, Russ Elliott, Director of Broadband Office in Washington, and representatives from Microsoft, Amazon, Google and T-Mobile.
The group devoted more than three months to the effort. The measures can also help when students are unable to attend school due to less catastrophic causes such as snow days.
“Children and families in my district and across the state are grappling with distance learning challenges – especially those in low-income households, black and brown families, and those who speak a language other than English. It is up to all of us to tackle the deep inequalities in access to quality education for our children. We need to close the digital divide, ”said Task Force member Rep. Mia Gregerson, whose district is in southern King County, said in a statement.
It is up to all of us to tackle the deep inequalities in access to quality education for our children.
The next steps, Ruderman said, are going to be the most difficult. She hopes to work with Gov. Jay Inslee’s office or the Chief Superintendent’s office to put together a blue ribbon committee that can create a plan to respond to the recommendations.
The report did not include cost estimates for the various initiatives and did not suggest new sources of funding. About half of it Of the state’s $ 53.3 billion, two-year budget is spent on K-12 education, and this year lawmakers will have to allocate money for COVID economic aid. Ruderman, who was once a state legislator and a member of the committee that sets state budgets, was nonetheless hopeful.
“If the legislator decides something is a priority, they figure out how to fund it,” she said.
While local tech and telecom companies have made efforts to help schools during the COVID crisis, Ruderman is not in favor of selectively calling on the industry or its employees to donate devices or pay taxes specifically targeted to them.
“I hope the legislature will take a holistic view of what needs funding and also that the different sectors of our business will also look…. and that whatever industry we are in, we will all figure out how to bear our fair share of the collective burden, ”said Ruderman.
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