Suzanne Wells Testimony – Digital Equity and Financial Literacy Council Hearing

Education Committee

Public Hearing

District of Columbia Public Schools Student Technology Equity Act of 2019, B23-0196

November 6, 2019

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.  My name is Suzanne Wells, and I am the president of the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization.

Ward 6 parents have been at the forefront of advocating for adequate and reliable technology in our schools.  Last year four of our school PTAs (Miner Elementary, Payne Elementary, Amidon-Bowen Elementary, and JO Wilson Elementary) were founding members of a parent advocacy effort to address the unreliable technology in DCPS.  They have since formed a city-wide coalition of parents who have been advocating for additional funding and support for school technology, as well as a long-range technology plan.

Ward 6 schools have struggled to maintain working technology. Ward 6 schools don’t just use computers for testing, they also use them for learning. Several Ward 6 schools use blended learning programs that combine digital learning with traditional teaching. Having Central Office provide devices for grades 3-12 will help support our schools.  Having a comprehensive technology plan will help to ensure there is a multi-year, sustainable plan for funding and providing technology to schools, not just a short-term initiative.

I believe the DCPS Student Technology Equity Act is needed because it recognizes DCPS has not done an adequate job in providing technology throughout the school system.  The bill places aggressive, but achievable timelines for conducting a needs assessment, and developing a comprehensive technology plan.  My remaining comments focus on questions for the Education Committee about the Act.

  • The Act seems focused on student computers, tablets and similar devices. Schools today use Smartboards in classrooms, and teachers need laptops to do their work. Because technology such as Smartboards is not included, and teachers are not mentioned in the bill, is it the intention of the Education Committee that these not be included in the comprehensive technology plan?

I believe the Act should be flexible and broad enough to cover a wide range of technology outside of computers and tablets, and written in a way that acknowledges there will likely be new developments in technology we don’t even know about today.  I would also caution the Committee in using overly prescriptive words such as “a plan to achieve or maintain a one-to-one-device-to-student ratio for grades 3 – 12,” and instead use language that seeks to optimize the use of technology in the classroom to support student learning.

  • The Act gives significant responsibility to the Technology Steering Committee. The Committee is tasked to contract with a DC-based partner, conduct the technology needs assessment, and develop a comprehensive technology plan.  As I read the bill, I was struck by how much responsibility is given to the Technology Steering Committee instead of to DCPS.

Many, many organizations have technology plans that are developed in-house. Of course, many of the members of the Technology Steering Committee members will undoubtedly be DCPS staff.  Yet, I could also envision a successful path forward where DCPS is directed to do many, if not all, of the responsibilities described in this Act, and the Technology Steering Committee advices DCPS on the technology audit and the comprehensive technology plan.

Can the Education Committee explain why it believes placing the responsibilities in the hands of the Technology Steering Committee rather than DCPS will be the best approach?

  • Finally, implementation of a comprehensive technology plan will require funding. I would hate to see DCPS have to reduce teaching staff or cut out other vital needs in the school to fund technology.  I encourage the Education Committee to work with DCPS to find the funding to implement this Act.

Scott Goldstein Testimony – Digital Equity and Financial Literacy Council Hearing

Testimony on Digital Equity and Financial Literacy in Washington, DC

EMpoweredScott 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.