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December 16, 2020

Dear Linda Darling-Hammond,

On behalf of our organizations and the millions of students we serve, we want to congratulate President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris. We’re excited to see all that you accomplish in the weeks before Inauguration Day and the years of governing to come. 

As transition planning begins, we are eager to engage with you regarding digital education. Millions of students are currently learning remotely or in a blended (both remote and in-person) setting. This transition brought on by the pandemic has amplified existing inequities in equipment, connectivity, and functional remote-learning environments, as teachers have been forced to teach remotely with little-to-no preparation or professional development. 

We need leadership that understands the importance of personalized learning and is ready to leverage technology to transform teaching, regardless of whether we are back to face-to-face instruction or continuing remote and blended learning. Leveraging digital platforms to facilitate high-quality teaching and learning predates the pandemic and will only grow more widespread in the years to come. And we strongly believe that with the right government support, investment in digital learning will lead to a richer, fuller experience for our country’s students. 

Prioritizing Local-and State-Level Funding

State and local education budgets have contracted to dangerous levels—projected cuts total $555 billion in the next three years alone. These funding shortfalls will negatively affect millions of students; 74 of the 100 largest school districts in America, representing over 9 million children, went fully remote this past fall. The total cost per school district to cover just the cost of students’ computers and internet access is $365,900. CARES Act funding enabled many school districts and state leaders to invest in digital learning platforms, but without sustained funding and investment, schools will not be able to continue to access the tools they need. 

School districts across the country need flexible funding, both in the COVID-19 stimulus/relief bills and in the appropriations bills currently under consideration by the House and Senate. We strongly urge you to push Congress to make local- and state-level education funding a priority. 

Staffing the Office of Education Technology 

Leveraging technology to support teaching and learning has taken center stage. Now, more than ever, our country needs strong leadership and a robust team in the Department of Education’s Office of Education Technology (OET) to provide guidance and support to our educators. Unfortunately, under the current administration, the OET is functioning with minimal staff and directed by leaders without education experience.

We strongly encourage your transition team to make staffing the OET a top education priority. A staffed, well-funded OET will help our districts navigate the months ahead as they continue to rely on digital platforms to deliver high-quality education.

Revitalizing America’s Assessments 

This past year highlighted how difficult it can be for educators to adequately measure students’ performance in real-time without being physically present together in the classroom or adequately connected on a digital platform. 

During the remaining months of the pandemic and in the years to come, educators need better insight into students’ progress, growth areas, and strengths. We strongly encourage you to revisit America’s approach to accountability. States should be free to move away from high-stakes summative assessments. Moving to models that leverage formative assessments at the classroom level will provide immediate feedback about what students know so educators can target interventions, adjust instruction, and re-assess for mastery. Psychometric models now exist that would allow formative and benchmark assessments to be used for accountability with reliability and validity.

Preparing America’s Educators

For far too long, our country has demanded more from our teachers than they can possibly provide, while simultaneously investing too little in our schools. COVID-19 underscored just how important teachers are to our society and how ill-equipped the educational system was to manage a widespread disruption. When classrooms first went remote, many educators had never interacted with learning management systems and struggled to keep connections with their students. Educators in every state felt the burden of having to quickly transition online without the proper equipment, digital tools, or training. And, in the nine months since then, most have not received the training or resources to adequately prepare them for online instructional design. As a result, our students have suffered

We strongly believe that educators should have the tools they need to succeed. Digital tools were becoming an integral part of American classrooms before the pandemic and will continue to do so for years to come. We encourage you to explore funding professional development for educators in order to promote collective efficacy and help accelerate student achievement.

Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions about these proposals, our insights into online education, students’ experience with the COVID-19 pandemic, or any other education-technology-related issue. 

Stay healthy and safe and we hope to hear from you soon. 

Best, 

Steve Daly

Chief Executive Officer
Instructure

Wayne Skipper

Founder/ Chief Executive Officer
Concentric Sky

Pep Carrera

Chief Executive Officer
Nearpod 

John Blakley

Chief Executive Officer
Unicon

Lauren Belive

Head of US Government Relations
Zoom