UPDATE: ALA President Courtney Young has commented about the introduction of the legislation. We’ve posted the full text of her statement at the bottom of this post.
Today, U.S. Senators Angus King (I-Maine) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.) introduced the Digital Learning Equity Act of 2015, major legislation that would support innovative ways to improve student access to the Internet and other digital learning resources outside of the classroom.
The Digital Learning Equity Act of 2015 aims to narrow this growing divide by supporting innovative ways to ensure students stay connected and extend access to digital learning opportunities when they leave the classroom. This bill would support states and school districts in piloting creative methods to increase student access to digital learning resources outside of the school day with the goal of increasing student, parent, and educator engagement and improving the ability of students to participate in new learning models, apply for work opportunities, and fill out college applications and financial aid forms.
The legislation also directs the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences to conduct a national study of the data associated with this growing digital divide, including information on the barriers to students having Internet access at home, how educators are adjusting classroom instruction to cope with this challenge, and how a lack of home Internet access impacts student participation and engagement.
The federal pilot program authorized under this legislation is inspired by a portable Wi-Fi initiative at the Cherryfield Public Library in Cherryfield, Maine. The “Check-out the Internet” initiative allows students to check-out a mobile Wi-Fi device to provide them with Internet access outside of school. The initiative is a public-private partnership with the New York Public Library, Maine State Library, U.S. Cellular, and Axiom Technologies with additional sites in rural Maine expected to be launched this summer. Participating students must lack Internet access at home and have a laptop or tablet issued by their school through the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, a program that was spearheaded by then-Governor King to provide laptops to every seventh and eighth grade middle school student in the State of Maine.
Statment by ALA President Courtney Young
“Librarians know first-hand that access to broadband and the skills to put it to work are essential for educational opportunity and achievement today. The ‘Digital Learning Equity Act of 2015’ addresses these issues head on for everyone concerned with ensuring our young people have the necessary skills to go on to college and into the workforce. ALA applauds Senators King and Capito in their effort to promote innovative paths to close the digital divide for our nation’s young people.
“The demonstration pilots authorized by the bill challenge educators in K12 schools, in libraries, and those who work with youth in other settings to explore new ways to ensure learning does not stop when the school bell rings. ALA also is encouraged by the research requirement so that the impact of investments made under the Act will be truly measured and the best of the best can be replicated in communities across the country.
“We see today’s youth incorporate new and ever-changing technologies almost seamlessly into their learning experiences. They engage with digital content of all types—doing online research, developing web sites, creating blogs and videos, coding, and collaborating on original content in virtual communities. These technologies present tremendous opportunities to advance critical thinking and problem solving skills, creative expression, and STEAM skills for the 21st Century economy. But they require ubiquitous access to broadband—in school, in the library, and at home.
“All our young people deserve the same opportunity to excel and to develop a passion for learning that will follow them regardless of the path they choose in life. Broadband can be a great equalizer—transcending geographic boundaries—but its promise only is fulfilled when all barriers to access and robust use are broken down. Libraries make strong partners and are committed to providing equitable access to digital opportunity.”