Grace Hu Testimony – Oversight Hearing for Education Agencies – March 9, 2021

Grace Hu

Digital Equity in DC Education

Written Testimony

My name is Grace Hu. I am a DCPS parent and one of the co-leads for the Digital Equity in DC Education parent coalition. Since 2018, we’ve advocated for technology funding and a comprehensive technology plan that outlines how DCPS will fund and provide computers, IT support, and professional development for teachers to help them use technology effectively. As we begin preparing for next school year, the need for a comprehensive technology plan continues to be important.

We are encouraged that DCPS recently made the decision to centrally purchase and provide teacher laptops to schools. This is a step in the right direction. The burden for funding and providing laptops for both students and teachers will no longer be on individual schools and will no longer depend on a school’s ability to access PTA or other external funding, which previously had exacerbated inequities in the system.

Preparing for Next School Year

These next few months are critical to ensure that our tech infrastructure is ready for students in August 2021.  We all know that the 2021-22 school year will be challenging for teachers, school staff, and families as we support students’ return to in-person learning and their recovery from trauma experienced during the pandemic. We do not need tech challenges to create additional disruptions and barriers as students and teachers work hard to close learning gaps created or exacerbated by the pandemic.

You can play a critical role in a successful return to school through oversight. We are asking you to ensure that DCPS is initiating the tech procurements, improving support systems, and upgrading school Internet infrastructure now, so that long-standing tech problems are not a barrier next school year. Key things you should be monitoring and asking DCPS about include the following:

  • What is DCPS’s timeline for
    • Placing purchase orders, receiving in the DCPS warehouse, and having OCTO technicians image student and teacher devices so that computers are ready to be delivered to all schools BEFORE the start of next school year?
    • Completing the technology audit of schools to determine the condition and number of working computers, which will inform each school’s allocation of technology for next school year?
    • A thoughtful and timely student device return program that allows time to assess the loss rate of devices and initiate the warranties that DCPS pays for?
  • What is DCPS’s plan for providing digital literacy training and training on any online platforms that will be used next school year for students and teachers? How will this training be responsive to family and teacher feedback that they need practical, hands-on training at various skill levels?
  • Will all schools have the Internet infrastructure to be able to handle devices for all students and teachers when they return to in-person learning?
  • How will DCPS and OCTO work together to improve tech support to ensure school staff and families get timely help for troubleshooting issues?

Comprehensive Tech Plan and DCPS Technology Equity Act of 2021

In 2017, the DC Auditor recommended that DCPS “create and make public a multi-year technology needs plan to define and provide adequate technology to each school. The plan should include expected costs and planned funding sources.”While we have seen parts of what could be a plan, we have not seen the kind of comprehensive multi-year plan (informed by engagement with families and educators) that other school districts have developed and published. The end date for DCPS’s original Empowered Learners initiative was 2022, and public documents on the initiative never articulated details on tech support, digital literacy training, and school Internet infrastructure. We will not achieve digital equity until we get past one-off, ad hoc decisions and purchases and establish a sustainable, predictable way of providing technology for students.

Last month Councilmember Lewis George and eight other councilmembers introduced the DCPS Technology Equity Act of 2021, which will require DCPS to conduct a needs assessment for each school’s technology, develop a comprehensive plan every three years, and set up an advisory committee to monitor and advise on the development of the plan. We were encouraged by the broad support for the bill’s introduction and look forward to its passage and implementation.

It has been four years since the DC Auditor made its recommendation on a multi-year tech plan. Many other school districts have comprehensive plans that are used to guide year-by-year efforts, provide stability and predictability, and hold city leadership accountable for implementing. At this point, we do not think DCPS will develop and publish the kind of comprehensive plan required without mandating it in legislation.

Again, the oversight that Council provides is an important lever in ensuring that our public school system is meeting the educational needs of our students. Thank you for the opportunity to raise these important structural issues that our students and schools are facing every day and holding our school leaders accountable to address them.

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