Privacy, broadband, No Child Left Behind among big topics of 2015

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President Barack Obama kicked off 2015 with a speech at the Federal Trade Commission about the importance of protecting student data, and ended the year signing into law a landmark bill updating No Child Left Behind.

It was a big year for education, and many officials seized the opportunity to update policies that were seen as outdated and ineffective. Looking back at some of the highlights: There was the proposed modernization of the Federal Communication Commission’s Lifeline program, which would provide subsidies to low-income families for broadband connections; the FCC also overhauled its E-Rate program to cap funding at nearly $4 billion; and eight bills were introduced in Congress to tackle the complex issue of student data privacy.

Schools across the country introduced a variety of innovative ideas revolving around technology, from teaching kids lessons on cybersecurity, to installing Wi-Fi in public places for kids to work after school, to offering teachers micro-credentials.

We surveyed some of the top newsmakers, stakeholders and education experts to find out what trends and topics topped their milestone list for 2015, and what to expect in 2016. Here’s what they had to say:

Joseph South, Deputy Director, Office of Educational Technology, U.S. Department of Education

This year, the Office of Educational Technology celebrated a big milestone: 20 million more students have access to high-speed broadband, thanks in large part to the President’s ConnectED initiative. We also updated the National Education Technology Plan and the next phase of Future Ready initiative, where district and state leaders can create plans and share best practices for using technology in the classroom. And Secretary Arne Duncan, who is stepping down this month, visited Williamsfield, Illinois, on his Back to School bus tour to officially launch the Department’s #GoOpen campaign to encourage districts to trade in textbooks for free, online digital resources.

Keith Krueger, CEO, CoSN

“The big technology trends of 2015 in education were expanding Broadband and WiFi. The significant 60 percent annual increase in investment by E-Rate is a game-changer. That said, infrastructure alone will not change teaching and learning. Heading into 2016, we must focus on our vision for learning, and building the human capacity to make it happen.”

Amelia Vance, Project Director, Education & Technology, National Association of State Boards of Education

“The top trend of 2015 in the education data world was the federal focus on student data privacy. Starting with the president’s speech at the FTC in January and continuing with a mention in the State of the Union, and the eight federal student data privacy bills introduced this year, this topic has become a priority to both sides of the aisle.”

Paige Kowalski, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy, Data Quality Campaign

“What’s ahead in 2016? Rep. John Kline [chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce] has indicated a desire to lead Congress through a FERPA [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] update before he retires, while state legislators have expressed fatigue on the issue. This fatigue combined with potential federal action leads me to believe we will see fewer state privacy bills introduced in 2016. However, with a renewed sense of state control, we will likely see a legislative emphasis on the use of data in accountability systems, report cards, personalized learning, and teacher quality efforts.”

Karen Cator, CEO, Digital Promise

“Coachella Valley Unified School District, a member of the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools, broke into the news cycle in 2015 by creatively addressing the homework gap with Wi-Fi-enabled school buses. Internet access is not only available on the bus to and from school, but with the buses parked overnight in neighborhoods where Internet access is otherwise unavailable, students and their families have been able to stay connected. This innovative idea exemplifies the FCC’s push to connect all schools to the Internet and provide students with the access they need to learn and thrive.”

Susan Patrick, President & CEO, iNACOL

“The announcement of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has the potential to have a huge impact on the future of personalized learning. Mark Zuckerberg has been exploring how to have the biggest philanthropic impact on education worldwide through personalized learning. Although personalized learning has been around for decades, we only recently gained access to the technologies and tools to empower teachers to personalize learning for every student. Zuckerberg has focused on connecting education to real-world experiences and grounding learning within the wider community, which exemplifies the supports necessary to promote equity, access and opportunity for all students.”

Julia Freeland Fisher, Director of Education Research, Clayton Christensen Institute

“For a long time education reformers have talked about competency-based education, but few systems have gone all the way. A key development in 2015 was the approval of the New Hampshire PACE pilot program. Although this is just one state-based experiment, it paves the way to new methods for assessment and accountability that could allow students to test and progress at a flexible pace – not based on age or grade level, but on learning. With allowances like this, states may begin to move past a one-size-fits all yardstick for measuring student progress, and instead start to track individual student growth in new and innovative ways.”

Tell us what you think: What was the biggest tech related milestone for your school district? Drop us a brief email or tweet.

Reach the reporter at corinne.lestch@edscoop.com or follow her on Twitter @clestch and @edscoop_news.

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