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Advocating for edtech, testing our resolve

By Craig Thibaudeau
April 1, 2017
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As we approach the end of President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office and the end of another college basketball season, I’ve been reflecting on a book about another forceful personality.

John Feinstein’s 1986 book A Season on the Brink chronicles the Indiana Hoosiers men’s basketball team’s tumultuous 1985-86 season, focusing on the personality of its coach, Bobby Knight, as he tries to guide his team to a winning season. Knight, as you may know, is famous not only for winning three NCAA National Championships, but also for causing controversy due to his treatment of players and the media. Knight’s team did not capture the title in the year about which Feinstein wrote but, the following year, his team won it all, defeating my hometown Syracuse Orangemen. Tumultuous times and a strong personality were surmounted and things worked out.

While the jury is still out on whether President Trump will succeed in his aims, there is no question that his pronouncements on education and selection of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education have shaken up federal education policy.

At ISTE, we don’t yet know what the Trump administration’s focus on school choice will mean for investments in education technology and broadband infrastructure. Indeed, we may even lose some battles that we had hoped to win.

But we must keep our eye on the prize, and when it comes to ISTE’s advocacy work, that means maintaining the larger principle of federal investments in E-Rate, closing the homework gap and the digital divide, and supporting professional learning. Like Knight, we may have to ignore losing a few games and focus on the long-term goal of a championship.

For ISTE to be successful in preserving its education priorities and chalking up policy and funding wins, we need the help of our advocates in the field, including ISTE members, to show Congress and the Trump administration that edtech is valuable – both now for our students’ education and later for them to successfully navigate the increasingly high-tech job market. 

April is ISTE Advocacy Month and we’re planning a number of efforts to ensure ISTE members’ voices are heard in Washington. In May, we will join forces with the Consortium for School Networking (cosn), the State Education Technology Directors Association (SETDA) and the Center for Digital Education to hold advocacy days in Washington. This collaboration and the focus on advocacy days will give ISTE members the opportunity to learn about the issues and deliver your message of edtech’s value directly to your senators and representatives.

There’s no denying that ISTE and its members stand at the brink of serious potential change for education technology with a Trump administration. We still do not know which way things will go for us and our priorities – glory or defeat. We do know that without a strong effort on our part, defeat is all but certain.

We’ve had major wins in the past few years, including a $1.5 billion annual cap increase for E-Rate, and edtech received preferred status in the new Title IV flexible block grant program in the Every Student Succeeds Act. Last year, the ISTE community sent more than 7,000 letters to Congress supporting edtech funding. And we have an advocacy network that is 20,000-people strong. An even stronger resolve will be necessary to protect our wins in the months ahead.

We encourage you to join us. Protect the advocacy work we’ve done. Share your voice. The time is now.

Craig Thibaudeau is ISTE's chief external relations officer.