Obama’s ConnectED program ‘not reliable’ – school tech chief

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U.S. Educational Technology Director Richard Culatta spoke at the annual ISTE conference for edtech enthusiasts Monday. (Education Department)

PHILADELPHIA — Pitfalls of the Obama administration’s highly touted ConnectED initiative were illustrated Monday by a school technology director who is wary of using the program.

David Jasa, IT program manager for St. Lucie Public Schools in Florida, aired his concerns to U.S. Educational Technology Director Richard Culatta, who was giving a presentation at the annual ISTE conference for edtech enthusiasts.

“The carriers seem to not be reliable,” Jasa, who has been with the district for more than 30 years, told Culatta.

As part of ConnectED, an effort to introduce high-speed Internet access in every school by 2018, private companies have offered a host of digital offerings for free — but often for only a short amount of time.

According to a Politico article published this month, more than a year after 10 vendors pledged to invest $2 billion in free software, wireless connections and other technology, they have been slow in rolling out the assistance. In some instances, schools still do not have the upgraded infrastructure necessary to accommodate what companies can offer. But in other cases, the vendors aren’t feeling intense pressure to roll out the initiatives in a timely fashion.

And another problem, Jasa said, is they only offer halfhearted commitments.

“When it first came out, I was excited and went to the ConnectED website,” Jasa said in an interview with FedScoop. “But everything I could find was a one, maybe two-year commitment. And you don’t want to change your whole process in your district and offering programs, and then suddenly, if that funding goes away, we don’t have a reliability that’s going to be recurring.”

Companies that have pledged assistance include Sprint, which is offering free wireless service for up to 50,000 low-income high school students over the next four years, and Adobe, which is providing more than $300 million worth of free software to teachers and students, including Photoshop and Premiere Elements. Apple is offering $100 million in iPads, MacBooks and other products as well.

Jasa said he was looking into the program to help fund after-school wireless connectivity for his mostly low-income students.

“We’re piloting a one-to-one [program], and next year, high school students are going to have laptops, and those students need to be working at home,” he said. “And we don’t have a way to provide them with Internet access after they leave the school campus. I thought maybe ConnectED would be a solution, but not if we give it to them and maybe take it away.”

Culatta said Jasa and others should impress upon the companies that their giveaways are being used for good in a bid to extend the offerings.

“There is a great interest in the private sector in supporting” ConnectED, he said. “Step up and show this is valuable, and I think it will be very likely that you will see those corporate commitments will continue to support those schools.”

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broadband, Cloud, ConnectED, Department of Education, Departments, Education, Education / STEM, Government IT News, ISTE 2015, Richard Culatta, Tech
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