Testimony on Digital Equity and Financial Literacy in Washington, DC
Scott Goldstein- Executive Director, EmpowerEd
November 5, 2019
Good Afternoon Chairman Grosso and Chairman Mendelson.
I am here to support and call for strengthening the Student Technology Equity Act before you today. I also strongly support the financial literacy bill and its pilot program, but will focus my testimony today on digital equity. This bill is a basic starting point- providing for a full audit and needs assessment of the technology and access in our school system right now. The council is on the right track to prioritize digital equity and establish a starting point that enables us to layout a blueprint for action. As a result of the excellent advocacy from parents and allies, DCPS has already taken positive steps in this direction.
For a moment, I want to back up to why this matters. In 1950, it took nearly 150 years for the amount of knowledge in the world to double. In 2013, the amount of knowledge in the world doubled every 12 months. Now, in 2019, it’s every 12 HOURS. There is a basic canon of knowledge our students need to be prepare to exercise citizenship, but given the rapidly expanding universe of content in the world, what is perhaps more important is for students to know how to sift through that knowledge, to search for it, extrapolate what they need and analyze it effectively. If that’s not reason enough, the influence of social media, online advertising and its recent effect on our national elections should be enough to convince us we need to take digital literacy and media literacy very seriously. It’s also why it’s essential that we not focus only on how many laptops, tablets, etc… that we have but also on how we’re using them.
I remember very well as a teacher when each spring rolled around and with it, testing season. But it wasn’t necessarily the schedule changes that came with it that bothered me most. Instead, it was that I was now facing two months (yes, that’s how long the testing window often is) with no access to laptops since every available laptop was going to be used for PARCC testing. That was around the time of year that I did one of my favorite projects- a social movement project that allowed students to take on a social movement from history and dive deep into it, analyze it and think about how it continues today. That required deep research and was made nearly impossible without laptops. So what did I do? I bought tablets for my whole class- digging into my own pocket and getting help from friends and family. Then, once I got the project underway, I was told by administrators that I couldn’t use the tablets I bought anyway for my project because the wireless network couldn’t stand having all the students testing plus students doing research on tablets. So for a whole two months- no internet access, no in school research for our students. It so happens that in many content areas, the curriculum demands teachers teach units that include research, video access and more during that very testing window, and yet we can’t teach the required curriculum when we don’t have access to the technology called for in our curriculum. That’s not an acceptable status quo for our students.
When I did have access- what mattered most to me was not just the content my students could access, but building in my students the ability to access and analyze the world of information at their fingertips. Students often did not know what to write in a google search to get the right result, how to weed through thousands of results, how to determine source credibility- all essential skills. This bill should be strengthened to audit technology use and the current practices in educating our students for digital literacy in addition to access to the hardware itself. As always, given that half of our students attend the District’s Public Charter Schools, I would hope the council would not shy away from ensuring that technology equity is not a promise we make only to half of our students. Access to this technology and to the skills needed to navigate it are essential for our students current and future success. Thank you.