Four Key EdTech Issues to Watch for 2016 - SunGard K-12
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January 19, 2016

Four Key EdTech Issues to Watch for 2016

By Dennis Pierce

Key edtech issues to watch for

As we look ahead to a new calendar year, here are four important EdTech issues to watch in 2016.

What will the testing and accountability landscape look like under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—and how will EdTech developers respond?

ESSA, which has replaced No Child Left Behind as the nation’s education law, contains provisions that could open the door to new forms of state assessment, such as computer-adaptive testing and even performance assessments. It also gives states broad discretion in setting goals and determining how to hold their schools accountable.

Although tests will still be a large part of states’ accountability systems, state leaders will have to incorporate other measures of success as well, such as school climate, teacher and student engagement, or access to (and completion of) advanced coursework.

The law could result in very disparate accountability systems from state to state, with different indicators for school, district, and state education leaders to monitor—and it will be interesting to see how EdTech developers respond to this shift.

K-12 educators and administrators will need a way to track and analyze these indicators that are likely to vary from state to state. Will manufacturers of student information and learning management systems develop different versions of their software that are customized to each state’s accountability plan—or will they build more flexibility into their software, so that these systems can be set up to track a very broad range of indicators to meet a wide range of customer needs?

While the new state accountability plans would not take effect until the 2017-18 school year, state leaders will have to submit their plans to the federal Education Department (ED) for approval—and they are likely to begin their planning process this year. K-12 leaders and EdTech developers alike will be watching these efforts closely to see what unfolds.

Will Congress take any action to protect student data privacy—and if so, what will this mean for schools?

One thing that ESSA did not address is student data privacy, despite President Obama’s challenge to lawmakers in his State of the Union Address a year ago.

The Obama administration was pushing for legislation specifying that data collected on students in the classroom be used for educational purposes only, and in response, House and Senate leaders introduced separate bills.

H.R. 2092, the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act of 2015, was sponsored by Indiana Republican Luke Messer and had 14 co-sponsors (12 Democrats and two Republicans) as of early January. S. 1788, the SAFE KIDS Act, was sponsored by Montana Republican Steve Daines and had only one co-sponsor, Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal. Neither bill had yet to be considered in committee, let alone brought up for a vote.

While Congress continues to grapple with this issue (or not), state legislatures are moving ahead with their own student data privacy initiatives. The Data Quality Campaign found that in 2015 alone, 46 states introduced 182 bills to protect student data privacy, resulting in 28 new laws in 15 states.

One state that will be watched closely this year is California, where a new law called the Student Online Personal Information Protection Act (SOPIPA) went into effect Jan. 1. The law aims to prevent third-party contractors from selling student data for advertising purposes, and it prevents companies from creating profiles of students for any non-educational purpose. EdTech companies doing business in California also must meet basic data security standards and must be prepared to delete student data if a school or district requests this.

EdTech advocates will be looking to see how these provisions affect efforts by companies and school districts to collect and analyze student data in order to personalize learning for each child.

Will the “Googlification” of education continue—and if so, how will this affect teaching and learning?

2015 was another great year for Google, which saw its Chromebooks surpass Apple’s iPad as the No. 1 device sold to U.S. schools.

According to Futuresource Consulting, Chromebooks now make up more than half of all new devices deployed in K-12 schools. Driving this trend are the devices’ low cost and easy manageability, along with the increasing popularity of the Google Apps for Education (GAFE) suite of cloud-based tools, which enable students to collaborate and share files easily online, regardless of what kind of device they are using.

Michelle Quinn of the San Jose Mercury News has suggested that Google is rapidly becoming the default operating system for U.S. schools. The company’s cloud-based tools allow for the types of educational experiences that EdTech advocates have been seeking for decades, in which students are exercising the “four Cs”: communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. At the same time, access to these tools will not change teaching and learning unless it is supported by robust professional development and a school culture that encourages innovation.

Making matters more complicated is that privacy advocates have raised concerns that Google hasn’t kept its promises when it comes to tracking student information. “Google is abusing its position of power as a provider of some educational services to profit off of students’ data when they use other Google services—services that Google has arbitrarily decided don’t deserve any protection,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation charges.

What will be the upshot of these concerns—and will GAFE and Chromebooks help schools realize EdTech’s full potential to transform teaching and learning? This year might begin to offer some answers.

Who will be the nation’s next EdTech Director—and how will the new National EdTech Plan be implemented?

Richard Culatta, director of ED’s Office of Educational Technology, has resigned his post to return to his native Rhode Island and work with Gov. Gina Raimondo on education initiatives there, T.H.E. Journal reports.

During his time as the nation’s EdTech director, Culatta oversaw the development of ED’s ConnectEd and Future Ready initiatives, as well as the development of a new National EdTech Plan.

EdTech advocates will be watching this year to see who his replacement will be; the logical top choice seems to be the current deputy director of the Office of Educational Technology, Joseph South, who has experience as an executive for online content providers.

Whether it’s South or someone else, Culatta’s replacement will be charged with implementing the new national EdTech plan. But this individual might only have a little over a year in his or her new position before another change is made as a result of the 2016 presidential election.

What’s on your EdTech radar for 2016? Let us know in the comments.

Dennis Pierce-footer


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