Bipartisan LEAD Commission Releases Report Recommending a National Initiative to Expand Digital Learning in K-12 Education

LEAD Commission


September 10, 2013

CONTACT: Claire Lerner

202.741.5585 / clerner [at]


Collaboration with Department of Education, Federal Communications Commission and More Than 300 Thought Leaders Leads to Plan Focused on High-Speed Connectivity and Devices

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At an education technology summit today, the bipartisan Leading Education by Advancing Digital (LEAD) Commission released a comprehensive report detailing specific actions to accelerate the expansion of digital learning in the K-12 education system to ensure that American students receive the best education possible and are equipped with the skills necessary to compete in the 21st century global economy.

Answering a challenge from the U.S. Department of Education and Federal Communications Commission to determine how technology can transform K-12 education, the LEAD Commission spent the past 18 months working with more than 300 thought leaders in the education technology field to identify the barriers that hamper digital learning in the U.S. and the necessary steps to overcome those barriers.

At the event, “Connected Learning in the Digital Age: Improving American Education through Technology,” James P. Steyer, LEAD Commissioner and Founder and CEO of Common Sense Media and James Coulter, LEAD Commissioner and Founding Partner of TPG Capital, detailed the report’s research findings and recommendations for a major national initiative to accelerate the implementation of digital learning in America’s education system.

The LEAD Commission report expands on a five-point blueprint released earlier this summer, and calls on the federal, state, local, business, education and nonprofit sectors to embrace the following recommendations:

  • Solve the infrastructure challenge by upgrading the wiring of our schools with high-speed broadband;
  • Build a national effort to deploy digital learning devices;
  • Accelerate the adoption of digital curriculum;
  • Embrace and encourage model schools; and
  • Invest in human capital to train our teachers.

The LEAD Commission found that the most immediate barrier to digital learning is inadequate infrastructure, including high-speed Internet connectivity and suitable Internet-enabled devices. In addition, America’s digital learning market is challenged by a decentralized education system that makes it difficult to integrate technology at scale on a fast enough timeline.  Many countries that already outperform the U.S. on international tests are implementing digital technology on a national scale, while the U.S. lags behind. Therefore, a lack of inaction could hinder U.S. performance and competitiveness.

“If unfixed, our digital learning market will continue to be strikingly slower than other countries and than is in the interest of our national as a whole,” said Coulter. “We’re proud of the collective effort and growing political support to pave the way for expanded digital learning access in America, as seen with private and public sector efforts, the Administration’s ConnectED Initiative, Congressional hearings, and the FCC proceeding to modernize the E-Rate program. The LEAD Commission’s recommendations will help the U.S. rebuild the critical infrastructure that is required to shape a successful digital learning system for our students and country.”   

In order to reflect the 21st century challenge of capacity and to deliver on the promise of connectivity, the LEAD Commission also recommends an upgrade to “E-Rate 2.0.”  Congress directed the FCC nearly 20 years ago to establish the E-Rate program to bring the tools of modern communications into schools and libraries.  Since then, E-Rate has been successful in providing America’s K-12 schools with access to the Internet; however, while today’s schools are wired, they generally do not have the high-speed bandwidth needed for state-of-the-art education in the era of laptops, tablets and digital content.

According to the LEAD Report, E-Rate should be updated to reflect today’s technology and high-speed bandwidth needs and to support next generation education models such as online and blended learning.  The program should be simplified to make it easier for school districts to access E-Rate funds, increase price transparency, and provide incentives to purchase bandwidth more efficiently.  The LEAD report also recommends that devices be supported by public and private efforts to aggregate purchasing and encourage schools to repurpose state funds currently spent on traditional textbooks.

“We currently face a critical bandwidth crunch that bottlenecks personalized, digital learning in many classrooms,” said Steyer. “With education technology now affordable thanks to the plummeting costs of digital devices and cloud-based software, this is the time to upgrade connectivity from narrowband to broadband.  Faster broadband, combined with more powerful devices and applications, can transform education across the country.”

By closing the technology gap through universal high-speed Internet connectivity and the delivery of devices to students, the U.S. can break through the existing market and infrastructure roadblocks and prepare a technologically enabled generation of students to meet the needs of a competitive international workforce.  The LEAD Commission’s recommendations offer the opportunity for the U.S. to create significant long-term gains for its schools, students, workforce and economy.

“Next-generation Internet technology can help expand access to quality teaching and learning tools, but not if only some of our schools can afford them," said LEAD Commissioner and Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger.  "While dedicated teachers and engaged students working together remain the core of learning, we need to be sure that all of our students and teachers in all of our classrooms – especially if they are in hard-pressed urban or rural schools – have an equal opportunity to benefit from the latest technology that can enhance academic excellence.”

“As a country, we must ensure all of America’s students and teachers have the resources they need to compete in the 21st century – regardless of zip code,” said LEAD Commissioner and Former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. “This is not a partisan issue, but rather is a matter of doing what’s best for the future of our country by investing in the digital learning resources that allow teachers and students to be competitive in this global economy.”

Today’s one-day summit includes education and broadband experts, business leaders and senior policymakers joining together to discuss the findings of the LEAD Commission and how to advance key education technology goals such as streamlining and modernizing E-Rate, ensuring availability of effective digital learning content and supporting teachers in the digital classroom.  Scheduled participants include National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling, FCC Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn and FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, Acting Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton, Chelsea Clinton, key education leaders such as New Schools Venture Fund’s Ted Mitchell and CityBridge’s Katherine Bradley, as well as business leaders such as Evan Marwell, Discovery Education’s Bill Goldwyn and Amplify’s Joel Klein.  The event will be webcast at


About LEAD Commission

Answering a challenge from the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Education, the Leading Education by Advancing Digital (LEAD) Commission was established to determine how technology can help transform education in America. The Commission is co-chaired by Lee Bollinger (President of Columbia University), Jim Coulter (Co-Founder of TPG Capital), Margaret Spellings (Former Secretary of Education) and Jim Steyer (Founder and CEO of Common Sense Media).