The $1.9 trillion America Rescue Plan allocates an estimated $122 billion to K12 schools in part to, “address the disruptions to teaching and learning resulting from the pandemic” and/or for “supporting educators in the effective use of technology.”
That’s good. And it’s potentially a problem.
The good is obvious - spending money to improve educational resources and education access, especially now.
The potential pitfall is that no one really knows what the “disruptions to teaching and learning” have been. Or, for that matter, what “the effective use of technology” looks like. Anyone may be able to guess, but when it comes to knowing what those are, where they are - we are all just guessing.
Three recent quotes highlight the lack of light on education technology.
“We are spending billions of dollars on technology with almost no information about which tools actually work, where, and why,” said Bart Epstein, CEO of the EdTech Evidence Exchange and a research associate professor at the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development.
Keith Krueger, CEO of Consortium of School Networking (CoSN) said, “Sometimes the status quo feels like the wild west — which is why it’s critical that we equip educators with the information they need to make the right choices for their classrooms.”
“We’re in the midst of one of the largest funding events in the history of education and that requires a commitment and an understanding that if we don’t use this moment to serve all students, it’s a missed opportunity,” said Karl Rectanus, co-founder and CEO of LearnPlatform, a digital dashboard that helps teachers and school leaders track and evaluate their edtech usage in real time. “In education, we do fundamentally want to help all students succeed but we have limited visibility and a limited fact base to inform decision making,” he said.
For example, we think we know there’s an equity gap in education technology. We think there’s a digital divide too. That’s the difference between those families and communities with potent access to broadband Internet and those without it. As mentioned, the problem has been measuring it or being able to see it in a way that’s more than a vague understanding.
That’s why it’s a big deal and a great step forward that LearnPlatform, the company Rectanus runs, today announced what it’s calling the National EdTech Equity Dashboard.
The new public resource calculates actual daily use of educational technology products nationally, data collected from 3.3 million teacher and student users across more than 9,000 education products culminating in an estimated 61 billion page load records. It’s not exhaustive, of course. But charting the actual daily use rates of 9,000 education technology tools in real time feels pretty comprehensive.
Frankly, I did not realize there were 9,000 edtech products, which is party the point. We have no idea what’s out there, in the market, in use or not in use on any given day. And if we don’t even know that, it’s implausible that we’d know what is an “effective use of technology” and what isn’t.
But where this dashboard may provide real insight is that it breaks down those technology and device uses by poor and not so poor districts. It’s baked into the dashboard’s chart.
And, sure enough, as we long suspected, when you actually measure who’s using education technology, the gap is real, substantial, persistent and, in some cases, growing.
“We knew even prior to Covid that there was a digital learning equity gap with the transition to hybrid or remote learning, and we had a sense it was expanding or changing,” Rectanus said. “And now that we can plot it and show people, we see that famous K-shaped recovery where those with increased access have engaged more while those with less access have engaged with learning resources less.”
Maybe that’s not news, but having it in numbers, on a graph anyone and everyone can see is still important. You can’t start solving a problem until you can identify it. And we can’t solve digital or technology inequity unless we know where to start, where to invest the money that’s flowing in from Congress.
“If education has a shared fact base,” Rectanus said, “then we can all focus on what’s best for each and every student and not just use best guess based on data from years ago.” Or worse, base our guesses on intuition. Or worse still, base our guesses on nothing whatsoever.
We can do better. It’s great news that we may be starting to.