Revisions to No Child Left Behind Attempt to Define Education Technology

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Weighing in at an overbearing 1,059 pages on November 30, 2015, the proposed revisions to No Child Left Behind (NCLB)—collectively dubbed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—are a tough bull to ride. (We surely hope our senators—or their aides—are reading it carefully!) The Washington Post has a summary of the mammoth bill, which proposes to return more power and authority over education to the states.

POLITICO reports that ESSA will curtail the federal government’s ability to push national standards like the Common Core and limit the power of the Secretary of Education. Under the proposed legislation, states will set their own measurements of success; they will still be required to test math and English proficiency annually and publicly report those scores as divided by demographics.

Title IV, Part A (“21st Century Schools, Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants”) of the proposed bill authorizes $1.65 billion for fiscal year 2017 in support of a wide range of student services, including drug and violence prevention, student counseling and education technology. (For comparison, according to this chart from the Department of Education, No Child Left Behind authorized $650 million for drug and violence prevention, $550 million for counseling and $1 billion for technology grants for fiscal year 2002.)

The new bill also offers “official” definitions for industry buzzwords like “blended learning” and everyday terms like “technology.” The former is defined as “a formal education program that leverages both technology-based and face-to-face instructional approaches A) that include an element of online or digital learning, combined with supervised learning time, and student-led learning, in which the elements are connected to provide an integrated learning experience and B) in which students are provided some control over time, path, or pace.”

Title IV highlights blended learning as a practice that can help students in dire straits. A provision adding funding for state-mandated blended learning professional development stands out especially—senators and congressmen had advocated for it earlier this month.

Within the definition of blended learning is the term “digital learning,” which may seem clear colloquially but can refer to a number of technologies. The proposed bill defines digital learning as “any instructional practice that effectively uses technology to strengthen a student’s learning experience and encompasses a wide spectrum of tools and practices...” The category goes on to list seven sub-definitions that detail the types of tools involved in digital learning.

The bill, leaving no terms left unturned, defines even the term “technology” to mean “modern information, computer and communication technology products, services, or tools, including the Internet and other communications networks, computer devices and other computer and communications hardware, software applications, data systems, and other electronic content (including multimedia content) and data storage.”

For all its definitions, Title IV is not without its incomprehensible elements. The act states that "[the Secretary of Education] shall reserve 2 percent for technical assistance and capacity building." This language may seem to say that only two percent of the allotment can go towards these programs, but, in reality, school districts could use the entire allotment to fund them. The two percent figure refers to the amount that states can reserve from district grants to build state-level technical assistance and capacity building. Part A also ends with what seems like a questionable caveat: "Special Rule—a local educational agency shall not use more than 15 percent of funds for purchasing technology infrastructure."

The Senate is expected to vote on ESSA sometime next week. 

Update, December 10, 2015: The President has signed ESSA into law.

Update, December 9, 2015: The Senate has passed ESSA in a vote of 85 to 12, and the President plans to sign it at 11 am ET Thursday, December 10, 2015, according to CSPAN.

Update, December 4, 2015: The Senate will vote on ESSA Tuesday, December 8.

Update, December 3, 2015: The House of Representatives has passed the ESSA in a vote of 359 for and 64 against.

Correction, December 3, 2015: A previous version of this article stated that only two percent of the allotment in Title IV, Part A could be used for technical assistance and capacity building.

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