On Nov. 19, 2014, Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho introduced President Obama at the White House, part of a daylong conference dedicated to the president’s ConnectED initiative, a commitment to furthering the digital transition in K–12 schools. Here, Carvalho outlines his district’s approach to a more connected education.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools has had a singular goal during my administration — to improve student achievement. To accomplish this goal, the district had to integrate new technology into the classroom to prepare students adequately for college and a career.
For those unfamiliar with Miami, it is one of the most culturally, linguistically and economically diverse communities in the nation. Our schools reflect that diversity— yet we are moving the needle on student achievement by embracing innovation, nurturing instructional excellence and building partnerships.
In education circles, we spend significant time discussing the achievement gap. But if we wait to address this “gap” in learning until it is identified in the classroom, we are too late. The achievement gap exists as part of a cycle that, for perhaps the first time in our history, we have the means to break. That process starts with eradicating the digital divide.
The axiom “knowledge is power” is particularly apt in today’s communication-based economic landscape. To give our children the skills to navigate that landscape, we must embrace digital tools to create a 24/7 anytime, anywhere personalized learning experience for every child.
Access Is Everything
In Miami-Dade, we knew that our students were digital natives — hyperconnected, multitasking consumers of information whose daily reality outside of school is always changing, in no small measure due to their use of and exposure to technology. We also knew that if we did not learn how to engage students on their terms, many would be lost.
We launched the Digital Convergence initiative two years ago to fundamentally transform the structure and environment of education across our school system. To address infrastructure needs, we raised $7 million from business and community stakeholders and leveraged federal matching funds available through the E-rate program for $70 million to outfit all 350-plus schools with Wi-Fi access.
We asked the taxpayers to invest in the future by placing a $1.2 billion schools bond on the ballot, the 21st Century Schools bond program, to repair or replace schools and provide technology. Miami-Dade voters supported the bond by a margin of nearly 70 percent.
We decided early that content, not devices, would drive our plans for technology. So we also worked closely with partners such as Discovery Education to create content aligned to educational standards. We sought out partners such as Microsoft, whose Student Advantage program makes powerful software available to all our students at no cost. We knew that we had to find a way to bring the Internet into children’s homes. So we began working with private Internet providers to offer affordable access in needy communities.
We changed the classroom landscape too, installing more than 11,000 state-of-the-art interactive whiteboards and deploying more than 50,000 digital devices, including notebook computers and tablets, to students (with another 50,000 devices to follow). And we opened the door for students to connect using their own devices through a bring-your-own-device policy.
By using blended learning to harness the power of digital content and technology, combined with great teaching and student engagement, we are bringing learning into the 21st century.