Tech companies ask Biden for more education support, student data

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In a letter last week, technology companies urged the Biden administration to take action on improving the accessibility and quality of education during the pandemic and to focus on securing sufficient funding and resources for schools.

The letter, addressed to Linda Darling-Hammond — president of the California State Board of Education and leader of President-elect Joe Biden’s education transition team — stressed the importance of technology to facilitate high-quality teaching and learning. Signed by technology companies such as Instructure, Concentric Sky, Nearpod, Unicon and Zoom, the letter asked the incoming administration to support education through several initiatives, including funding state and local education budgets, staffing the Office of Education Technology, improving the collection of student assessment data and investing in professional development for educators.

“We need leadership that understands the importance of personalized learning and is ready to leverage technology to transform teaching,” the letter reads. “Leveraging digital platforms to facilitate high-quality teaching and learning predates the pandemic and will only grow more widespread in the years to come.”

And with the pandemic creating challenges for education, including accessibility of remote learning for students and professional development for educators, the companies claimed that it is crucial that there be more government support and investment in digital learning.

Prioritizing state and local funding

The letter to Biden’s education transition team asks that the incoming administration double down on providing funding to educational institutions to help navigate the challenges of the pandemic.

“CARES Act funding enabled many school districts and state leaders to invest in digital learning platforms, but without sustained funding and investment, schools will not be able to continue to access the tools they need,” the companies wrote.

In March, Congress awarded $30 billion in grants to higher education and K-12 institutions through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, but leaders in education have since requested further investments to help improve education accessibility and quality. And currently, there’s a tremendous amount of unmet financial need among schools, Jarret Cummings, a senior adviser for policy and government at Educause, told EdScoop.

Staffing the Office of Education Technology

The letter also requests that the Biden administration fully resource the Department of Education’s Office of Education Technology. The OET develops national educational technology policy to provide guidance and support to educators, but under the Trump administration it has been functioning with minimal staff.

“We strongly encourage your transition team to make staffing the OET a top education priority,” the letter read. “A staffed, well-funded OET will help our districts navigate the months ahead as they continue to rely on digital platforms to deliver high-quality education.”

Improving student assessments

Improvements to student assessment data, which can give teachers additional insight into how students are learning in their new remote or blended learning environments, are also necessary to improve teaching and learning during the pandemic, according to the technology companies.

“During the remaining months of the pandemic and in the years to come, educators need better insight into students’ progress, growth areas, and strengths,” they said.

Educational institutions across the country have been investing in data analytics tools to ensure students are learning from their classes and engaging in online learning during the pandemic, but the tech companies said support from the federal government would further improve data-driven student assessments.

Investments in professional development

The pandemic has forced educators to adopt new ways of teaching and for many teachers it has meant learning how to use new technology quickly. And while many institutions have made major investments into professional development for faculty, the technology companies said further investments must be made.

“COVID-19 underscored just how important teachers are to our society and how ill-equipped the educational system was to manage a widespread disruption. … Educators in every state felt the burden of having to quickly transition online without the proper equipment, digital tools, or training,” the letter read. “We encourage [the Biden administration] to explore funding professional development for educators in order to promote collective efficacy and help accelerate student achievement.”

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