Is the E-Rate about Accessibility or Achievement?

Once again, the ROI on edtech spending has entered the spotlight. A 2015 report from the OECD found no significant improvement in outcomes in science, reading, and math for students regularly using classroom technology compared to those who are not. Now, a new joint study from the Clemson Information Economy Project and the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy says there is no direct evidence that increasing access to e-rate funding improves student outcomes. According to the report, “after adjusting for demographic differences, we find that an additional dollar of E-Rate subsidies has virtually no economic effect on average SAT test scores.”

Writing for Politico, Dr. Thomas Hazlett, one of the report’s authors, says the results of the study suggest that E-Rate funding should be suspended until it can be proved that there is value in the investment. However, critics of the study believe that its premise is flawed. Evan Marwell, the founder and CEO of EducationSuperHighway, told Education Week that the purpose of the E-Rate is about providing equal access to high speed internet for all schools – not achievement.

More important, the SAT may not be the most reliable measurement of success because of the demographics of SAT test-takers. “The article attempts to correlate SAT performance with federal E-rate program spending," said Brendan Desetti, the director of education policy at The Software & Information Industry Association to Education Week. "However, only about half of all high school students take the SAT, and the majority of test takers are not low-income students. The E-rate program, on the other hand, provides subsidies for broadband connectivity to schools and libraries based on the number of low-income individuals served. Higher-income students, those more likely to participate in the SAT, are also shown to be more likely to have access to high-speed internet and other technology outside of the classroom."

As noted at several AAP PreK-12 Learning Group events over the years, the success of any learning tool relies as much on individual implementation and environment as anything else. When talking about student outcomes, the focus should not be on the technology, said 2016 Content in Context keynote Anthony Salcito, VP – Worldwide Education for Microsoft. Instead of having the same conversations about technology, focus on the student’s ambition, and everything else should be a tool in service of that.

Read, The Educational Impact of Broadband Subsidies for Schools Under E-Rate, Hazlett, Thomas W. and Schwall, Benjamin and Wallsten, Scott. (May 17, 2016). Available at SSRN.


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