Grace Hu Testimony – Special Committee COVID-19 Recovery and COW Hearing: DC Ed After COVID-19 – May 26, 2021

Special Committee on COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery and the Committee of the Whole

Joint Public Oversight Hearing

The District’s Public Education System After the COVID-19 Pandemic

May 26, 2021

Good morning, I am a DCPS parent and the co-lead for Digital Equity in DC Education. We are a group of DCPS parents who have been advocating for digital equity and technology supports since 2018. Achieving digital equity for DC students is not rocket science. In fact, we’ve been advocating for the same three things these past few years:

  1. 1:1 student-device ratio coupled with digital literacy training
  2. Robust technology support and asset management at the school level, so that the burden for managing and troubleshooting technology is not on teachers and existing school staff
  3. Improved technology infrastructure to support reliable, high-quality internet in school and at home

Technology is a part of modern-day education and will remain so after the pandemic. Before the pandemic, DCPS’s Office of Teaching and Learning had already been working on integrating online tools and curricula into instruction for years. I got involved in parent advocacy after seeing that my daughter’s school in Southwest DC had a shortage of working computers, even though the school required students to do online testing (including for PARCC), use online math/reading intervention programs, and had implemented a blended learning model in which students rotate between online learning programs and small-group teacher-led instruction.

Council Legislative Action

While the school system has started making investments in the short-term to address the most visible technology shortcomings (i.e., devices), DCPS still lacks a comprehensive, multi-year tech plan four years after 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.”We also need DC to develop a master internet plan to ensure all residents have access to high-speed, reliable internet.

Two recently introduced bills – the DCPS Technology Equity Act and the Internet Equity Amendment Act – will mandate the multi-year planning needed to get DC past band-aid fixes and having to relitigate every year how we should support technology and related supports for students. We need you to get these 2 bills to a vote and passed.

Council Oversight Needed

Without information provided in a timely and open manner, it is hard to assess the extent of tech challenges and the effectiveness of government actions to address digital equity. As a parent volunteer group, more than half our time and energy is spent trying to figure out how to get information from DC government. We meet with and send questions to the government agencies involved. Often it takes weeks to months to get a response, or we get a vague response that is not helpful. Occasionally, we resort to using FOIA to request information, but that process takes weeks and you must request a government record/document, which means knowing what document/record contains the information you seek.

With the end of the school year approaching, I urge you to ask DCPS how it will manage the return of student devices/hotspots (and use that information to inform numbers for new device purchases), as well as the timeline and milestones for ensuring that student & teacher devices, tech support, and school/home internet infrastructure will be ready on day 1 of next school year. 

Text Box: A subset of questions we asked over a month ago and did not get responses: 
Teacher Devices: Did you finish testing sample devices with teachers? Have you chosen a model and can you share how many teachers will receive devices?

School WiFi: Please share the list of schools that will receive internet infrastructure upgrades this year. Could you also note which five schools will be upgraded to 5 gigs and confirm the project completion date? Could you also provide the list of schools that were upgraded last year?
DCPS-OCTO MOU: Has the MOU been finalized? What is the anticipated level of tech support, including the number of OCTO techs assigned to schools to provide direct service? Will OCTO techs be trained and assist with asset management in SY21-22?
Technology as part of school modernizations: Please clarify - Because DGS purchases tech equipment for modernizations it is not E-rate eligible?  Does DCPS pay DGS for the tech that they purchase (as a part of a modernization project) through an interagency transfer? 
On data on the digital divide, for the first time this year DCPS’s enrollment form package includes questions on access to the internet and devices, and we encourage you to ask for that data broken out by school and ward. Ideally, we would have high-quality consistent data across both sectors on access to technology, as opposed to ad hoc, inconsistent surveying that happened this past school year.

Digital Literacy

Lastly, we need your engagement to make sure the discussion on digital equity doesn’t focus simply on devices and internet, but also skills for using technology.

Digital literacy is not a buzzword to us. It means that students are taught to use the Microsoft Office suite to complete assignments. It means teaching children typing skills so they can complete online testing without the added barrier of limited typing proficiency. It means when students get assigned by their high school teacher or college professor to do a research project and make a Powerpoint on the findings, they can focus on the actual content, not struggle with using software and conducting online research.

DCPS has no overall plan or standardized approach to ensure every student (or teacher) has these kind of digital literacy skills, which means students are taught these skills on an ad hoc, inconsistent manner. Additionally, it is unclear whose responsibility it is to teach students digital literacy. Librarians, many of whom gone through master’s programs with a heavy emphasis on digital tools, can help with digital literacy training. But librarian positions have been categorized as flexible positions in the DCPS budget process and are getting cut.  

Conclusion

While achieving digital equity is not rocket science, we need continued Council engagement to ensure that technology challenges, including the lack of long-term planning and a clear path to digital literacy for all students, is addressed in a timely manner by the executive branch. Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

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