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Which States Have Digital Learning Plans?

According to SETDA, 32 states have statewide digital learning plans, a dozen require local districts to come up with their own plans, and some have provisions other than mandates to encourage classroom technology use.

Students sitting at desks in rows in a classroom with computers in front of them. A male teacher stands at the front of the classroom instructing. The camera angle is from the back of the room.
While old textbooks, dittos and film strips are rarely seen in most K-12 schools, there’s no federal law requiring districts to replace those learning tools with interactive whiteboards, web browsers and more modern classroom technology. And many states don’t have those requirements, either, a recent analysis by Government Technology found.

According to the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), 32 of 50 states have statewide digital learning plans in place that districts are required to follow and which are updated every three to seven years. In the absence of a universal statewide plan, 12 states require districts to devise and implement their own digital learning plans that must be approved at the state level and/or follow established standards for classroom technology from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) or similar organizations. ISTE standards promote concepts such as digital citizenship, equity and computational thinking.

Six states — Colorado, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, plus Washington, D.C. — have no statewide digital learning plan, no requirements for such at the district level, and no guidance for using recognized industry standards, according to SETDA.

Alabama, Kentucky, North Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming are a "yes" in all three of those categories. In those states, statewide policy outlines minimum requirements for digital learning plans, while the districts are individually required to add standards or tweak their plans based on demographics and student needs.

The U.S. Department of Education defines digital learning as an instructional practice that applies technology to strengthen a student’s learning experience. Computer-science course standards, for example, would be noted in digital learning plans. Some digital learning plans also address a commitment to individualized instruction and pledge to provide remote capabilities where students can learn anytime anywhere.

The two biggest states, California and Texas, have mandated statewide digital learning plans but do not require districts to tailor their own versions of them. New York and Florida, by contrast, require districts to approve their own plans in addition to the mandated statewide plans. But none of those four states require districts to follow ISTE or other particular industry standards.

In Wyoming and Kentucky, mandates for state and district learning plans as well as the industry standard requirements were prompted by lawsuits, in Kentucky's case dating back to the 1990s, when plaintiffs alleged unequal education at different districts in the state. The Bluegrass State subsequently became first in the nation to bring Internet access to all schools, said Marty Park, digital officer for Kentucky’s Office of Education Technology.

“After the lawsuit in 1991, we didn’t want to be last in any learning category,” he said. “Since then, we’ve been very strategic about it. It’s not just technology for technology’s sake. It really gets into what our students should be doing and learning with technology.”

Kentucky’s digital learning plan requires shared-service arrangements that guarantee all schools have top-of-the-line high-speed Internet service. Products and services must be the same price for every district, and everyone uses the same student information and financial management systems. The same platforms are used for all administrative tasks, and CIOs from every district meet monthly, Park said.

The individual district plans, Park said, often pertain to digital equity measures. For example, in complying with the state requirement that every student has a laptop or tablet, some districts are required to provide personal Wi-Fi hot spot capabilities for students who lack connectivity at home.

In Missouri, a state with no statewide digital learning plan, no state requirements of districts and no rules about whose standards to use, districts are still incorporating technology into their classrooms, but the process of reviewing, selecting and implementing instructional materials happens locally and without state-level approval, according to an email from Mallory McGowin, spokeswoman for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

In Mississippi, while the state does not have digital learning plan requirements and has not adopted ISTE standards, districts must have digital learning plans in place in order to be eligible for grants that cover devices and professional development under the Equity in Distance Learning Act, according to an email from Department of Education Public Information Officer Shanderia Minor.

Montana, in the absence of digital learning plan requirements at any level, has two statewide education “rules” that promote the use of technology in classrooms. According to the Montana state government website, a rule requiring equal-opportunity access to education mandates that local boards of trustees ensure students have access to hardware and software that support learning, while another rule states that if schools decide to take on online learning initiatives, the content provided to students must meet state standards for participating grade levels.

Education department representatives from Colorado, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Washington, D.C., did not respond to requests for information.
Aaron Gifford has several years of professional writing experience, primarily with daily newspapers and specialty publications in upstate New York. He attended the University at Buffalo and is based in Cazenovia, NY.