Digital Learning, an iPad and Coulter’s Testimony

Digital Learning, an iPad and Jim Coulter’s Testimony Before the Senate Commerce Committee

July 18, 2013


On Wednesday, July 17, Jim Coulter, co-founder of TPG and co-chair of the Leading Education by Advancing Digital (LEAD) Commission, testified before the Senate Commerce Committee’s Hearing on “E-Rate 2.0: Connecting Every Child to the Transformative Power of Technology.”

Unlike the legions of others who have testified before the committee, Coulter read his remarks from a tablet computer – an iPad to be precise – and not from a paper copy. This shift, of course, transcends a Senate hearing to underscore the need for our schools to use today’s mobile computing power and digital learning tools to prepare American students for the demands of tomorrow.

“Just as technology marches on, so does the need for technological support for our schools,” Coulter said. “Today, modern teaching methods utilizing digital tools are poised to revolutionize education around the world.”

Coulter urged the Senate panel to support and strengthen E-Rate, a Federal Communications Commission program that helps connect schools to the Internet. The program, which was instituted more than a decade ago, needs to be reinvigorated to meet our schools’ burgeoning bandwidth needs. While E-Rate has been a success in delivering Internet connectivity to schools, today fewer than 25 percent of schools report having the necessary high-speed Internet bandwidth.

Senators from Massachusetts to Alaska to West Virginia praised the 17-year-old program, which has allocated more than $30 billion to connect schools, but also understood the need for E-Rate 2.0.

"Technology is the great equalizer in our society," said Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), adding that every American student, regardless of race, family income or location, should be granted the promise and power of technology.

Though they had many questions about how E-Rate would be reformed, Rockefeller and other senators understood delivering faster and more robust Internet connections has important implications on our country’s competitiveness.

“Our connectivity limitations and our lack of national coordination on this issue will have a direct impact on learning outcomes, the education ecosystem and our nation’s ability to prepare current and future generations for a highly competitive global workforce. If we don’t act now, we risk losing our position as the global leader,” Coulter said, concluding that the U.S. education system faces significant tests and tough international competition. “Today, we are facing a ‘Sputnik Moment’ in education. It is time for our country to collectively say ‘modernizing our schools is a national priority.’”

Coulter’s testimony comes one month after the LEAD Commission unveiled its five-point blueprint to accelerate the expansion of digital learning in K-12 education in the United States. The LEAD Commission spent more than one year working with more than 300 thought leaders in the education technology field to identify the barriers that currently hamper digital learning in the U.S., and the necessary steps to overcome those barriers. Coulter recently discussed the path forward for education technology and the LEAD Commission’s recommendations at the 2013 Aspen Ideas Festival.

LEAD Commission co-chairs Jim Steyer and Margaret Spellings will speak about the need for E-Rate 2.0 at the FCC’s Open Meeting on Friday, July 19. The FCC is expected to vote on a notice of proposed rulemaking to modernize the E-Rate program, which provides funding to connect our nation's schools to the Internet.