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State Bill Keys on Training Teachers in New Ed Tech

Passed by the Senate and being read in committee for the state Assembly, a new bill aims to create a statewide program in the California Department of Education to assess the needs of local schools and train teachers on technology.

As K-12 schools across the U.S. spend billions in federal COVID-19 relief funds on devices and Internet access needed for digital learning, the question of how to train teachers to make the most out of new ed-tech tools is up to state and local authorities.

Noting a need for state support, the California state Legislature has proposed SB 767 to steer district-level professional development efforts in the years to come. The Assembly Appropriations Committee is in the process of reviewing the bill, which aims to create a Digital Education Equity Program (DEEP) within the California Department of Education (CDE) to administer a regional network of technical assistance for schools.

The bill would establish a new Office of Educational Technology and Digital Equity within the department to lead planning and coordinate with 11 regional groups made up of county education offices that would identify and address local ed-tech needs. The law would additionally require school districts to adopt a local education technology equity plan and guidelines for digital inclusion by 2024.

Sen. Josh Becker, who introduced the bill earlier this year, said many schools need guidance or support to train teachers how to use new technologies effectively in the classroom. This has only become more pressing as demand for remote and hybrid learning options increased during COVID-19. And while in-person classes resumed this year, no one is expecting classroom technologies to go back in the box.

“We all saw with the pandemic the importance of digital technology in education,” Becker said. “Schools and teachers were able to adapt quickly, and some weren’t. We had the pandemic really shining a spotlight on the need for better use of education technology and its increasing importance.”

Becker said that despite districts’ receiving federal and state funding for school technology needs and broadband access, many lack cohesive state-level support in the realm of professional development guidance.

“In California, we’re passing $6 billion for broadband,” he said. “That’s great to get that connectivity, but none of that provides tech support or training in schools on how to use technology effectively. That’s what this bill is all about — it’s really about technical support and training for teachers to use technology."

The bill follows similar measures in other states to administer the use of new ed-tech tools, such as Kentucky’s SB 129, passed in March to establish a technical advisory committee within its Department of Education, as well as neighboring Virginia’s K-12 Instructional Technology Advisory Team, established before the pandemic.

“I think it’s really important that states are taking this on. It’s crucial that states step up,” Becker said. “We’re getting additional federal support and things like broadband infrastructure, but in terms of this kind of training and support, it’s really up to the states to help their local districts.”

Noting strong bipartisan support thus far, Becker said he’s optimistic about the bill making its way to the Assembly floor within the next couple of weeks.

According to Becker, the bill largely draws from a previous state policy abandoned seven years ago, when California adopted the Local Control Funding Formula and changed how professional development for teachers is organized. He said the old, centralized program administered by regional county offices was a more efficient use of state resources.

“Since 1987, we had a regional model. We had 58 regional offices divided into 11 regions,” he said. “We took away this kind of programmatic support and left districts on their own for things like staff development.

“In some ways, this is putting back in place something that we used to have in California, which is sort of this regional model for doing this kind of technical training,” he added. “It’s new in one sense, but it’s really putting back and building on a model we had in the past.”

This article first appeared in Government Technology, a sister publication of Techwire.
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.