“All of us can be a critical driver of the solutions”: Multi-Sector Leaders convene at the National Digital Equity Summit

Office of Ed Tech
5 min readNov 1, 2022
Secretary Miguel Cardona addresses National Digital Equity Summit attendees.
Secretary Miguel Cardona addresses National Digital Equity Summit attendees. (Image by the U.S. Department of Education | CC BY 2.0)

On September 28, 2022, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology (OET) hosted the National Digital Equity Summit to launch Advancing Digital Equity for All: Community-Based Recommendations for Developing Effective Digital Equity Plans to Close the Digital Divide and Enable Technology-Empowered Learning.

The Summit brought together 200 leaders from government, community-based organizations, education systems and institutions, research, industry, and philanthropy to discuss opportunities from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s broadband investments to increase the adoption of technology for learning and close the digital divide. Advancing Digital Equity for All aims to support these opportunities by sharing recommendations for leaders developing their state digital equity plans and highlighting barriers faced by learners furthest from digital opportunities, as well as strategies communities have leveraged to increase access. The resource urges leaders to address human-level barriers to adopting broadband and technology tools for learning, such as a lack of access to information, technical support, or opportunities to build digital skills and literacy.

“Today, the digital technology is the great multiplier,” said Secretary Miguel Cardona in his opening remarks. “At its best it can multiply the opportunities that our students can access. At its worst, it deepens disparities that existed long before the internet, divides that fall along race, place, and how much you make.”

Digital Promise Chief Digital Equity Officer D’Andre Weaver (far left) moderates a panel featuring community leaders (left to right): Sina Uipi (Empowering Pacific Islander Communities), Allison Strobel (Jersey City Housing Authority), Kellie Wilks (Ector County Independent School District), Luis Pedraja (Quinsigamond College), Shawna Becenti (Navajo Preparatory School), and Amanda Bergson-Shilcock (National Skills Coalition).
Digital Promise Chief Digital Equity Officer D’Andre Weaver (far left) moderates a panel featuring community leaders (left to right): Sina Uipi (Empowering Pacific Islander Communities), Allison Strobel (Jersey City Housing Authority), Kellie Wilks (Ector County Independent School District), Luis Pedraja (Quinsigamond College), Shawna Becenti (Navajo Preparatory School), and Amanda Bergson-Shilcock (National Skills Coalition). (Image by the U.S. Department of Education | CC BY 2.0)

The Summit featured a panel of leaders from community-based organizations, educational systems and institutions, and local government agencies, moderated by D’Andre Weaver, Chief Digital Equity Officer at Digital Promise. The panelists reflected on what digital equity means to their communities, emphasizing that efforts must go beyond building physical infrastructure.

For example, Quinsigamond College President Luis Pedraja explained, “I define digital equity in three ways: one is the resources — you have to have the access and the equipment. The other is the skillsets — you have to make sure that students know how to use it. And the third… you have to have the proper conditions to succeed.”

Panelists also shared some of their strategies to support learners, families/caregivers, and other community members. For example, Jersey City Housing Authority Chief of Staff Allison Strobel described efforts to assist residents one-on-one with applying for the Affordable Connectivity Program and subscribing to internet service providers. Kellie Wilks, Chief Technology Officer at Ector County Independent School District, highlighted the district’s partnerships with community members, local governmental agencies, and nonprofits to develop a plan to provide ubiquitous connectivity.

Panelists’ stories demonstrated the need to address adoption barriers in addition to barriers related to physical infrastructure and broadband affordability. “Families who have [physical] access are still trying to get access to broadband… [Physical access] doesn’t mean that they know how to access that [broadband],” said Sina Uipi, policy associate at Empowering Pacific Islander Communities. “[It’s] super important for us to… listen to our community partners, to our educators, to our students and really see how we can address those inequities and those gaps.”

Co-creating solutions with communities most impacted by the digital divide emerged, both in the guidance resource and throughout the Summit, as an important action step for leaders.

Angela Thi Bennett serves as the Digital Equity Director at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the federal agency responsible for implementing several broadband programs in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Bennett stated, “We know that robust, meaningful, local engagement is key for co-designing solutions with our communities, so there isn’t a disconnect between what the communities need and what we think the solution should be. As states begin working on their BEAD [Broadband Access, Equity, and Deployment Program] and digital equity plans, it will be critical for those states to go to the tables of those most impacted and just listen.”

Office of Educational Technology Deputy Director Kristina Ishmael moderates an interagency panel featuring Institute of Museum and Library Services Director Crosby Kemper, Federal Communications Commission Special Advisor D’wana Terry, and Department of Labor Chief Innovation Officer Chike Aguh.
Office of Educational Technology Deputy Director Kristina Ishmael moderates an interagency panel featuring Institute of Museum and Library Services Director Crosby Kemper, Federal Communications Commission Special Advisor D’wana Terry, and Department of Labor Chief Innovation Officer Chike Aguh. (Image by the U.S. Department of Education | CC BY 2.0)

D’wana Terry, Special Advisor at the Federal Communications Commission, which administers the Affordable Connectivity Program, reinforced this point during the interagency panel. She urged audience members, “Amplify the voices of the experiences, and if you don’t have all of the voices, then you won’t have the total solution.”

Leaders from other federal agencies also highlighted the importance of interagency and cross-sector collaboration. Department of Labor Chief Innovation Officer Chike Aguh reflected, “Collaboration is important because whether you’re thinking about the people who are on the wrong [side] of education divides, wrong side of economic and work divides, or people on the wrong side of the digital divide, they’re all the same people… The issue with the way we organize government is that we deal with people as if they’re not the same people, and so the only way that we take care of people with the totality of their lives, especially with an issue like this, is we have to work together.”

Education’s Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten issued a call to action during her closing remarks: “All of us can be a critical driver of the solutions that we know work. We each are tapped into big networks, whether its funders, whether its supports, whether its communities and states… I ask that all of you think about how we can both make this sustainable long-term and make it available for every student.”

OET will respond to Deputy Secretary Marten’s call by:

  1. Activating our communications channels to share community-based recommendations from the Advancing Digital Equity for All Resource with leaders and advocates.
  2. Uplifting local champions and their efforts to bridge the adoption gap through our story engine.
  3. Collaborating with both federal and “on-the-ground” colleagues to support strategic development and implementation of effective digital equity plans for learners.

Missed the National Digital Equity Summit?

Highlights from U.S. Department of Education’s National Digital Equity Summit

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Office of Ed Tech

OET develops national edtech policy & provides leadership for maximizing technology's contribution to improving education. Examples ≠ endorsement