More than 100 school superintendents from across the country gathered at the White House on Wednesday, joined online by hundreds more, to digitally sign a pledge affirming their commitment to the ConnectED initiative.
ConnectED began in 2013 as a plan to get 99 percent of classrooms high-speed Internet access by 2018. President Barack Obama started his speech Wednesday at the ConnectED to the Future Convening by saying there are still many obstacles to overcome.
“Right now, fewer than 40 percent of public schools have high-speed Internet in their classrooms,” Obama said. Until that number reaches 99 percent, other countries will have a competitive edge, he added.
“One of the things we also need to do is yank our schools into the 21st century when it comes to technology," he said. "Other countries are doing this. They're trying to out-educate us today so they can out-compete us tomorrow.”
During Wednesday's gathering, Obama reviewed the progress the initiative has made and what lies ahead.
In July, the Federal Communications Commission raised its commitment to broadband implementation in schools by an additional $2 billion over the next two years. It also modernized its E-Rate program, formally known as the Universal Service Fund’s Schools and Libraries Program. E-Rate provides discounts on telecommunications and Internet services.
Contributions for ConnectED don’t stop in the public sector, either. Obama said 10 private companies have committed more than $2 billion toward the initiative: Adobe, Apple, AT&T, Autodesk, Esri, Microsoft, O’Reilly Media, Prezi, Sprint and Verizon.
Two online education platforms, edX and Coursera, have agreed to offer their services to advance ConnectED's cause, the president noted. EdX already offers Advanced Placement-level courses for free and soon will begin offering free certification for these courses. Coursera will offer educators nationwide free credentials for district-approved professional development courses.
Gesturing to those in attendance, Obama called educators across the country to action, saying they were key to helping realize ConnectED’s goal.
“Closing the technology gap is going to take more than fiber-optic cable,” Obama said. “It’s going to take teachers, principals, superintendents who get it — who understand the power of these tools when used creatively and who are willing to make changes and push reforms and test new ideas. And we want to help you do that.”
Obama asked superintendents to rededicate themselves to ConnectED by taking the Future Ready District Pledge, signed digitally after his speech on tablets distributed throughout the room as well as by another estimated 1,200 superintendents watching online.
"It’s a vision for digital learning in classrooms across America — helping schools and families make the leap to high-speed Internet; supporting teachers and principals who use technology in innovative ways; and helping every student gain access to digital devices and high-quality digital content," Obama said.
Before closing the event, Obama announced a series of 12 regional summits for principals and superintendents to help prepare more districts for the challenges ahead of connecting classrooms to high-speed Internet.