The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

White House to further expand digital access in classrooms

President Obama will announce Wednesday an expansion of an initiative to bring high-speed Internet connectivity to almost all of America's schools, recruiting superintendents to develop and implement sweeping plans to set up Internet infrastructure and tailor it to classroom needs.

Obama will announce the enlargement of ConnectED, a program announced last year, at a White House conference on digital learning, the White House said. The plan is part of a broader White House strategy to upgrade America's ever-changing Internet infrastructure as one would a system of aging highways or bridges. ConnectED, which Obama announced at a North Carolina school last year, aims to put high-speed broadband and wireless Internet in 99 percent of America's schools by 2017. The initiative involves a significant private-sector component; companies have committed more than $2 billion toward helping upgrade internet infrastructure in schools.

To achieve that goal, more than 1,200 superintendents will sign on Wednesday to implement technology in schools in their districts and work with educators in other school districts to help ground learning in technology. The superintendents will work to update broadband and wireless and infuse technology into the learning process, things that could include figuring out what types of devices to give students to helping teachers with ideas on how to teach through technology. The White House estimates the group will reach 10 million students across 16,000 schools nationwide.

Despite the ubiquity of technology, many schools throughout the country don't have the Internet speed or quality to support the type of technology that many students and educators use at home. In some schools, certain classrooms may not be connected. The Department of Education will distribute an infrastructure guide to help administrators map out the type of connectivity they need and how to get it into schools, and a toolkit to show educators examples of how technology is used in the classroom, helping them to customize lesson plans and goals.

"What it all means is we’re helping to demonstrate that American K-12 schools are at a tipping point and this is a movement that is overtaking the entire country," an Obama administration official said.

Private sector companies have donated $2 billion to ConnectED. The Federal Communications Commission boosted its investment in school and library Internet by $2 billion earlier this year, providing funding and discounts. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Monday proposed that the cap on annual spending for Internet in schools be raised by $1.5 billion. Obama has asked Congress for $200 million in Fiscal Year 2015 to help fund the initiative. But school districts, many of them cash-strapped, will still have to find room in their budgets for technology.

The administration said that districts will still have to tailor their budgets to accommodate technology.

The Department of Education, in partnership with the Alliance for Excellent Education, plans to hold 12 regional summits to help educators introduce and use technology in schools.

Coursera, an online education company, will provide free professional development to teachers and allow them to earn certificates that can be used toward continuing education credits. And open online course provider EdX will provide free course certificate to teachers and high school students in schools that are determined to be high-need, as well as free access to online advanced placement courses.

"This is a really important reform because we know that the way in which our children are engaged and the skills they need relative to science, technology, engineering, math, the skills they need to be problem solvers and critical thinkers," the administration official said, "all of those demand a richer classroom environment and technology."