Further Reform for the FCC’s Lifeline Program and Other Education News

I’m using my space this week to include information and links to things you may have missed over the past few, very busy weeks. I know I am already finding it challenging to keep up and the holiday flurry has just begun. Read on for updates on what’s happening with Title IV-A grant money, the FCC’s efforts to – one more time – make the Lifeline program more efficient, a stroll down memory lane with the CoSN/EdScoop EdTech Time Capsule, and more education industry updates.

Bernstein Strategy Group, a government relations firm, acting on behalf of the Title IV-A Coalition, reached out to state education department officials to find out how they planned to distribute their FY17 allocations. Title IV-A is the new block grant program in ESSA that supports schools’ efforts to deliver well-rounded instruction, promote safe and healthy schools and Implement technology. Of the 48 states that responded (CO and MN did not respond), 39 states are distributing their Title IV-A funds by formula, 8 indicated they are distributing funds competitively (IN, NE, NV, NH, NM, NY, OK and UT), and Massachusetts is distributing via a hybrid method. The report includes information of the requirements that states going the competitive route must meet and some detail on what priorities those states are setting.

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) is celebrating 25 years of supporting the efforts of technology advocates and leaders in American schools. As part of the year-long celebration CoSN wanted to honor and reflect on the past, and thought an EdTech Time Capsule would be a fun way to do that. So CoSN, in partnership with EdScoop, launched a national crowdsourcing project to identify the top 25 products, people and developments that transformed education through technology over the last 25 years. The results are now in and the Time Capsule has a permanent home on EdScoop website. The list is a mix of things that are beginning to pass into history (like the recognition of Seymour Papert and Sens. Olympia Snowe & Jay Rockefeller, founding sponsors of E-rate legislation, as Ed Tech Pioneers and the creation of Mosaic) and newer developments like Makerspaces and Chromebooks.

Vicki published the full list of all the people, products and developments included in the Time Capsule in her Snoops column, so I won’t repeat it. Check the list out for yourself. I think everyone who does will be stirred by different memories. You might also want to look at the original list of nominees to see if you agree with the wisdom of the crowd.  I know that my first substantial online experience was with CompuServe and I remember trying to do research on the University of Minnesota’s Gopher server, so the early World Wide Web that Mosaic enabled was such a gift.

I was also happy to see netTrekker and unitedstreaming’s (now Discovery Education) original subscription video streaming service among the products included in the Time Capsule. From its founding, netTrekker recognized the importance of vetting and organizing digital resources if they were ever to be perceived as useful in the classroom. It has maintained that posture over the years, always looking for ways to make content more accessible to learners.  unitedstreaming pioneered ways to make video classroom use not just easier but more purposeful, organizing videos into curated content collections by grade and topic and supported by instructional resources. Schools continue to seek out content that has been carefully evaluated and organized in ways that allows them to retrieve just what they need to address a standard and meet students personal interest and capabilities.

FCC Updates Lifeline Program

On Nov 16, the Federal Communications Commission began its efforts to “transform its Lifeline program to more effectively and efficiently close the digital divide for low income households.” Lifeline, which was established in 1985 to provide discounts on phone services to low-income households, was expanded in 2016 to support broadband access, providing $9.25 in monthly discounts for voice, voice-data bundles, or stand-alone broadband. The Fourth Report and Order, Order on Reconsideration, and Memorandum Opinion and Order passed on a 3-2 party line vote. The new order clarifies that premium Wi-Fi and other similar services do not qualify as mobile broadband under the lifeline subsidy program; increases the portability of Lifeline service among carriers; and limits “enhanced” Tribal Lifeline support – $25 monthly in addition to the standard $9.25 per household – to facilities-based providers. Tribal Lifeline support is further limited to only rural areas of tribal lands.

The FCC also issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to seek comments on a self-enforcing budget mechanism, or cap (it suggests $820 million) and on improving the Lifeline program’s eligibility verification and recertification process, among other issues. Finally, the FCC issued a notice of inquiry, which is a fact-finding effort undertaken prior to a NPRM, seeking comment on better targeting the funds to areas and people most in need of the money.

Not surprisingly, the Republican majority, led by chairman Ajit Pai, say the proposed rule changes are targeted to preventing waste, fraud and abuse and restoring the Lifeline program to its original intent. The emphasis on facilities-based providers, for example, is meant to help combat the waste, fraud and abuse that the FCC has found to be associated with the use of resellers, providers that don’t build or maintain their own network facilities. But consumers in rural areas, especially rural areas as isolated as those found on tribal lands, often are not served by facilities-based providers. Capping Lifeline expenditures will not help address what Brookings calls the “subscription gap.” In 2015, almost one in four people (a total of 73.5 million) lived in low subscription neighborhoods, where fewer than 40% percent of households subscribed to in-home broadband. Some 17.7 million children under the age of 18 live in low subscription neighborhoods, facing real challenges in keeping up with school work and career exploration.  Granted, some of that subscription gap is related to lack of interest or need, but a lot has to do with cost, which is what Lifeline is supposed to address. It’s data like this that supports the belief of the two Democrats on the FCC (and many outside critics) that the proposed changes will result in limiting the access of low-income consumers to broadband services. So much for dealing with the homework gap. Get ready to submit your comments on the NPRM.

Industry Winners’ List

It’s always fun – and instructive – to see who makes the latest education industry winners’ lists. Some products and organizations appear consistently over the years, but the lists also bring to light new comers who have captured school market attention. Tech & Learning and EdTech Digest have announced their 2017 award winners.

  • The 2017 Tech & Learning Awards of Excellence winners have been announced. Entries were divided into two categories: New Products and Best Upgraded Products. A panel of T&L advisors tested hundreds of entries and chose the winners. Winning selections include software, apps and web-based products, as well as hardware and AV tools. Detailed product descriptions and judges’ comments will appear in Tech & Learning’s December/January Awards Issue.
  • EdTech Digest has posted the complete list of finalists and winners of its 2017 Awards program. The program is open to industry solutions providers, educators and others in and around education including K-12, higher education and lifelong learning. The program includes three broad entry categories: The Cool Tool awards, the EdTech Leadership awards, and the Trendsetter awards.

Other Updates

EcoRise, Google, and the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) have partnered to develop a project-based learning sustainability curriculum that will enhance STEM instruction. Google will support the project, “Citizen Science: Student and Community Engagement in Assessing and Improving School Buildings,” with a $50,000 grant, will jointly develop the curriculum along with EcoRise and CHPS, and will put it into use with their Science Journal App and Google Classroom platform. In the new curriculum, the school building will be used as a learning tool to not only educate students, but to bring awareness of current school facility conditions and the ways in which they can be improved.

Turnitin has added new historical analysis writing prompts to its Revision Assistant tool. Students need to learn how to write effectively and analyze domain-specific texts in all curriculum areas. The task can’t fall on just English teachers, but by middle school, writing assignments in subject areas outside of English/Language Arts tend to be only a paragraph in length. Science and social studies teachers have limited time to deal with correcting and commenting on more lengthy assignments while also teaching to the standards. Revision Assistant gives students immediate, actionable feedback while they write—support writing instruction in content areas beyond English/Language Arts.

The Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) plans to raise $70 million to support efforts to put 2.5 million girls through their STEM programs by 2025. GSUSA added 23 STEM and outdoor badges earlier this year and plans to add 18 cybersecurity badges and a series of space science badges over the next two years. Way to go GSUSA!

Follett recently announced that it will be selling LEGO® Education solutions to school librarians. Follett introduced its own Makerspace Bundles last year. This move expands its offering. Follett has deep reach into the school library market and great credibility, so this move should be a plus for both the companies and the schools.