Classroom Technology

Will Ed-Tech Companies Prosper From ESEA Reauthorization?

By Sean Cavanagh — December 08, 2015 5 min read
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Cross-posted from the Marketplace K-12 blog

As the Every Student Succeeds Act pulls onto the runway for the U.S. Senate’s anticipated approval this week, ed-tech companies are likely to see new opportunities emerge from the sweeping new education measure.

The act is the long-awaited reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (originally the Elementary and Secondary Education Act), and the 1,000-page legislation has been through numerous revisions.

For a distillation of key components of the law, check out Alyson Klein’s comprehensive coverage on our Politics K-12 blog. If the Senate passes the bill, President Obama is expected to sign it.

Here’s a quick look at some provisions in the legislation that could provide opportunities for companies working in the K-12 space.

Block Grants Permit Technology Investments

Ed-tech companies are likely to focus on a block grant called the “Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant” that would allow schools to use up to 60 percent of funds for technology purposes. It is the largest piece of allowable funding from a three-part formula in the 21st Century Schools portion of the bill, under Title IV, Part A.

Of the full grant, up to 60 percent can be used for “supporting the effective use of technologies,” according to Brendan Desetti, director of education policy for the Software & Information Industry Association. The block grant formula “gives maximum flexibility to states and local districts about how they want to spend those dollars,” he said in a phone interview. That means the 60 percent is not assured for technology, but it can be used that way.

Desetti said it’s encouraging that the Senate has passed legislation that authorizes specific expenditure levels for the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant, but he cautioned that appropriations aren’t guaranteed. For 2017, there is a $1.65 billion authorization, followed by $1.6 billion annually in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Under the legislation, each district should receive at least $10,000, of which up to 60 percent could be used on technology, according to Desetti. Only 15 percent could be devoted to hardware.

The block grant replaces I-TECH, a previously proposed standalone program for educational technology that did not make it into the final compromise bill. Although the plan was short-lived, I-TECH was included as an amendment to the Senate bill earlier this year that had received support from various ed-tech groups. They were excited about I-TECH because it was the closest schools came to getting earmarked ed-tech funding since President Obama pulled the financial plug on the Enhancing Education Through Technology program in 2010. Back in February, the president included $200 million in his proposed budget to reinstate the plan, but that didn’t happen either.

Read more about the ed-tech funding that could materialize here:

Title IV

Assessments Still Abound

Summative assessments will continue to be required, and it looks like the federal government will continue to play a major role in testing, as Education Week’s Catherine Gewertz writes in “No Child Left Behind Spells Out Assessment Details.”

On the annual assessment side, students will have to be tested in grades 3 through 8, and once in high school. All students must be tested. States will be required to submit plans for interim testing to monitor students’ progress. Beyond that, the framework allows for the use of local, nationally recognized tests at the high school level, with state permission, in lieu of its traditional state exam. The SAT or ACT, for instance, could be substituted.

Alyson Klein explains in “ESEA Reauthorization: The Every Student Succeeds Act Explained” that up to seven states could apply to the U.S. Department of Education to try out local tests. She writes that, by experimenting with new forms of assessment (as New Hampshire is doing with performance tasks), the new tests could eventually go statewide and be used by everyone.

Computer-adaptive testing also would be easier to use. States could administer computer-adaptive assessments under Sec. 1111(b)(2)(J) provided those assessments meet specific requirements.

And under Sec. 1201, states are permitted to use a portion of federal funding provided to support the development of statewide assessments to integrate concepts related to engineering and technology into the states’ science assessments, according to the STEM Education Coalition.

STEM Funding Increases

Liana Heitin writes on our Curriculum Matters blog that STEM funding will get a boost in the legislation. While it’s unclear exactly how much of that will wind up in digital resources, STEM is a natural area for investments in technology, Heitin points out that the STEM Education Coalition, a group of businesses and professional organizations that includes Microsoft and the American Chemical Society, are also pleased with the bill, which allows both Title II and Title IV funding to be used to improve STEM instruction.

In the assessment area, the bill would let states use federal funding to refine science assessments to “integrate engineering design skills and practices,” Heitin writes.

Education Innovation and Research Program

Competitive grants for investing in education will be available under this new program, which is an offshoot of President Obama’s Investing in Innovation, or i3, grant program.

In “What Role Will Research Play in ESSA?”, Education Week’s Sarah Sparks writes that the competition resembles the i3 program, in that it will include early-phase grants to develop, implement, and test new and promising programs. Evaluations of successfully implemented programs would be eligible for second-level grants. And programs that have shown “sizable, important impacts” in those evaluations would be eligible for third-level grants.

Under the Obama Administration, the Investing in Innovation (i3) grant program, as well as Race to the Top competitive grants, have created numerous opportunities for applicants to use federal money to test digital strategies to the classroom.

See also:

Follow @EdWeekMMolnar and @EdWeekIandI for the latest news on industry and innovation in education.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.

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