The Universal Laptop Program helps to divide a state digitally

When this school year began, parents, teachers and students rejoiced at the long-awaited return to personal learning. But when the epidemic appeared to be over, the delta-type districts reconsidered their plans to bring students and staff back to school. In some states, there is a seven-day rate for new coronavirus cases Twice as high This was the time last year.

As a result, many states have reintroduced virtual and hybrid education options as new Covid-1 cases are on the rise. And one, Mississippi, has made significant progress in closing the digital divide through a pandemic response plan that takes into account the unique needs and challenges of each pandemic district.

Forced digital partitioning

Outbreaks appear to be exacerbated by inequalities in access and opportunities across the country, but this is especially true in rural areas in the south. While progress has been made in reducing digital divide using CARES Act funding, many of these efforts are temporary, short-term solutions. Will expire Over the next two years. According to recent Guess, More than 12 million students are out of touch due to limited technology infrastructure, supply chain disruptions, lack of technology adoption support and insufficient funding. Admission levels for families in different income categories have remained unchanged from what they were in 2019, which will further inconvenience students from low-income families.

It is worth remembering that the digital partition is not all or nothing. Digital access experiences have consistently existed. Students who have a laptop need to share it with one or more siblings if they lack the device. Internet access may be available to a student but if they cannot stream videos without interruption, they are insufficient for distance learning. The real progress towards closing the digital divide will require a concerted effort in the public, private and social sectors – the effort that Mississippi made when the epidemic began.

Statewide approach

When schools began closing in the spring of 2020, Mississippi State Superintendent of Education Kerry Wright missed an opportunity to bridge the digital divide in the state. Wright and her team from the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) immediately began working on a strategic approach to reduce the digital learning divide among students living in different parts of the state. The first step is a gathering of MDE experts with expertise in educational materials, professional development and technology who collaborated on digital education guidelines that are valid with districts.

Released in April 2020, the guide was designed to facilitate local discussion around the next steps in support of aligned remote and hybrid learning models with MDE support. The guide includes budgeting tools to help districts determine their technology needs based on the number of students and teachers and a list of devices, software and connectivity.

It was launched after a statewide district survey to determine the features of device ownership and internet connectivity at the local level. Wright explained, “We needed to get land based on the age of the device and how many there are in each district. “We were very worried. Some districts did not have adequate tools for all children, some did not have teachers, and all districts did not have LMS [Learning Management Systems]. And so, with the stabilization dollars that were coming in, we asked ourselves, ‘What if we worked with the legislature to bring together a plan to buy this equipment?’ ‘

In the following weeks, her team at Wright and MDE developed a statewide digital education plan and cost model to close the digital divide based on district survey data. Introduced to the legislature in May 2020, the plan aims to make education more equitable by closing the gap between state-owned equipment ownership and broadband coverage. Wright said, “We really thought this was an issue of equity. For this, every district in the state was encouraged to refresh their laptops.

Following the approval of the MDE plan, Mississippi policymakers rushed to pass two new laws on July 9, 2020, allocating a combined 200 million to fund the Mississippi Connect program. The first law, the Equity in Distance Learning Act (Senate Bill 3044) Provided जिल्ह 150 million to districts for computer tools, software, teacher professional development, and improved Internet connectivity. A key element of Senate Bill 3044 was the exemption from the regular purchase bidding process which would enable MDE to reduce costs and enable faster shipping through bulk purchases. To receive the equipment, districts will have to match 20 percent of the funds received and submit a digital education plan to MDE by September 1, 2020.

Second Act, the Mississippi Epidemic Response Broadband Availability Act (House Bill 1788), Mississippi school districts, independent schools, and Native American Native schools received अनुदान 50 million in grants to increase broadband access to insecure areas of the state.

Funds were allocated based on data from the Federal Communications Commission on households without broadband access and the population of districts with students receiving free or reduced meals. Each district paid for their equipment and submitted documents to the MDE for reimbursement. Funds allocated by both the House and Senate bills must be spent by December 15, 2020, which includes repayment of MDEs to districts for the cost of funding equipment.

Once the new law was passed, the MDE leadership met with the school district superintendent and technology director to meet the technology needs of each district and established a transparent process for selecting vendors with the ability to manage complex projects of this size and meet the deadlines set out in the law. . What happened next was an unprecedented statewide purchase effort that would effectively put computers in the hands of every K-12 student after the fall of 2020. A project that would normally take two years to plan and implement. Weeks – Everything at a time when America was facing Lack of laptops Due to high global demand.

To reduce the burden on the districts, the program rented a large warehouse in Jackson where shipments were received from around the world. All equipment was unboxed, reinforced with hard case, loaded with security and software, and fully configured to suit individual school needs. The equipment was then loaded onto trains and handed over to schools for immediate use by students. All the districts had to do was pull them out of the cart and turn them on. The equipment came with three-year insurance and 24-hour break / fix support that provides schools with on-demand diagnostic and repair services.

Planning for the future

The Mississippi Connect program was created more than a plan to connect students with technology – through the seamless interaction of teaching and learning with students, their classmates, their teachers and their community, whether in class or at home. The first step is to provide teachers, administrators, and technical staff with the raw materials of a comprehensive plan to help every public-school student in Mississippi have a rigorous, engaging, and secure digital learning experience. Additional program components include high-quality digital curriculum, professional development of teachers, and access to telehealth and teletherapy to support students’ physical and socio-emotional health.

MDE is working with their partners to implement the next phases of the program. Currently, an educational technology coaching program is underway to provide teachers with customized, one-to-one support from a mentor who works collaboratively with teachers to identify appropriate learning objectives, co-design lesson plans, and appropriate digital tools and resources for support. Suggestions To promote data-based decision-making, BrightBytes is organizing data-walkthroughs with districts to help analyze data and set short- and long-term goals to improve student outcomes. Data will be collected in the autumn of 2021 along with the second data collection planned for spring 20 to 2022. Plans are also underway to digitize the long-recognized landscape, extending broadband to Mississippi’s rural communities. Digital Desert.

MDE is aware that the real work has only just begun. The most challenging task is to create the conditions and support that value having a device. “This is just the beginning,” Wright said. “We have a long way to go as we continue to work with partners, train teachers and bring Internet connectivity to rural and urban areas. With this vastness it takes time to ensure the success of the program, but it can be done with the right leadership, public and private partners and support from schools. ”

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