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Policy Statements

NEA Policy Statement on Digital Learning


In the fast-paced, worldwide, competitive workplace we now live in, our traditional school models are not capable of meeting the needs of the 21st century student. All students—preK through graduate students—need to develop advanced critical thinking and information literacy skills and master new digital tools. At the same time, they need to develop the initiative to become self-directed learners while adapting to the ever-changing digital information landscape.

This shifting landscape creates new opportunities for NEA, our affiliates, our members, and our profession in preschools, public elementary and secondary schools, and postsecondary institutions. The appropriate use of technology in education—as defined by educators rather than entities driven by for-profit motives—will improve student learning, quality of instruction, and education employee effectiveness, and will provide opportunities to eradicate educational inequities.

Digital technologies create new opportunities for accelerating, expanding, and individualizing learning. Our members and students are already actively engaged in building the schools and campuses of the future—including quality online communities. Increasingly, teachers, faculty, and staff are becoming curriculum designers who orchestrate the delivery of content using multiple instructional methods and technologies both within and beyond the traditional instructional day. Teaching and learning can now occur beyond the limitations of time and space.

NEA embraces this new environment and these new technologies to better prepare our students for college and for 21st century careers.

Ensure Equity to Meet the Needs of Every Student
NEA believes that educational programs and strategies designed to close the achievement and digital gaps must address equity issues related to broadband Internet access, software and technical support, and hardware maintenance. Also, technical support must be adequate to ensure that digital classrooms function properly and reliably for both educators and students. Under our current inequitable system of funding, simply moving to a large scale use of technology in preK-12 and postsecondary education will more likely widen achievement gaps among students than close them. For example, school districts with lower income populations simply will not be able to provide or maintain appropriate and relevant digital tools and resources for their students. We as a nation must address the issues of equity and access in a comprehensive manner in order to see the promise and realize the opportunities that digital learning can provide.

To that end, NEA believes that student learning needs can best be met by public school districts and postsecondary institutions working in collaboration with certified teachers, qualified education support professionals, faculty and staff, and local Associations to develop comprehensive and thorough digital learning plans that address all the elements of incorporating technology into the instructional program. These plans should be living documents, constantly reviewed and adapted as changing circumstances require, but always keeping the focus on student learning. Implementation of these plans should honor experimentation and creativity as part of the learning process for both educators and students, while always maintaining support for the professional judgment of educators. It is of critical importance that the use of technology is recognized as a tool that assists and enhances the learning process, and is not the driver of the digital learning plan.

These plans also should include the provision of adaptive technologies to meet individual students’ needs, including assistive technology to support students who are English Language Learners and students with a variety of disabilities or challenges.

Support and Enhance Educator Professionalism
NEA believes that the increasing use of technology in preK to graduate level classrooms will transform the role of educators allowing the educational process to become ever more student-centered. This latest transformation is not novel, but part of the continuing evolution of our education system. Educators, as professionals working in the best interests of their students, will continue to adjust and adapt their instructional practice and use of digital technology/tools to meet the needs and enhance the learning of their students.

All educators—preK-12 and postsecondary teachers, ESPs, and administrators—are essential to student learning and should have access to relevant, high-quality, interactive professional development in the integration of digital learning and the use of technology into their instruction and practice. Teachers need access to relevant training on how to use technology and incorporate its use into their instruction, ESPs need access to training on how best to support the use of technology in classrooms, and administrators need training to make informed decisions about purchasing equipment, technology use, course assignments, and personnel assignments. School districts and postsecondary institutions need to ensure that they provide interactive professional development on an ongoing basis, and to provide time for all educators to take advantage of those opportunities. The training needs to address both the basic preparation on how to make the technology work, and how to most effectively incorporate it into the educational program.

Teacher candidates need problem-solving and creativity experiences and should have the opportunity to learn different strategies throughout their pre-service education and regular professional development so they are prepared for using not only the technology of today, but of tomorrow.

In these changing roles, it is important to protect the rights of educators, and to fairly evaluate the accomplishments of educational institutions as a whole. For example, the use of supplemental, remedial, or course recovery online instruction can affect the hours, wages, and working conditions of all educational employees, but can dramatically affect college and university faculty and staff.

Educators and their local Associations need support and assistance in vetting the quality of digital course materials and in developing or accessing trusted digital venues to share best practices and provide support.

Furthermore, education employees should own the copyright to materials that they create in the course of their employment. There should be an appropriate “teacher’s exception” to the “works made for hire” doctrine, pursuant to which works created by education employees in the course of their employment are owned by the employee. This exception should reflect the unique practices and traditions of academia.

All issues relating to copyright ownership of materials created by education employees should be resolved through collective bargaining or other process of bilateral decisionmaking between the employer and the affiliate.

The ownership rights of education employees who create copyrightable materials should not prevent education employees from making appropriate use of such materials in providing educational services to their students.

Enhance and Enrich Student Learning
Optimal learning environments should neither be totally technology free, nor should they be totally online and devoid of educator and peer interaction. The Association believes that an environment that maximizes student learning will use a “blended” and/or “hybrid” model situated somewhere along a continuum between these two extremes.

NEA believes there is no one perfect integration of technology and traditional forms of delivering education for all students. Every class will need to be differentiated, and at some level every student needs a different approach. Professional educators are in the best position and must be directly involved in determining what combination works best in particular classes and with particular students.

Students’ maturity and developmental status determines how students adapt to the use of digital technology as they continually face more challenging materials. The use of technology in the classroom will help build self-reliance and motivation in students, but it must be appropriate to their developmental and skill level, as determined by professional educators.

As different digital tools are created and used, the impact of technology on traditional socialization roles must be considered. The face-to-face relationship between student and educator is critical to increasing student learning, and students’ interactions with each other are an important part of their socialization into society.

Additionally, assessment and accountability systems need to be carefully developed to ensure academic integrity and accurately measure the impact on students. Sensible guidelines and strategies should be used to ensure students are completing their own online assignments and taking the appropriate assessments.

The Role of the Association in Promoting High Quality, Digital Learning
The development and implementation of high quality digital learning must be a top priority of NEA and its affiliates. The Representative Assembly, therefore, directs that NEA demonstrate its support of digital learning by providing leadership and sharing learning opportunities to develop and implement high quality digital learning that enhances instruction and improves student learning. The Representative Assembly strongly encourages NEA to do this work in the field of digital learning in partnership with trusted organizations and experts who can work at the national, state, and local levels to assist states, school districts, colleges and universities, and local Associations in developing their capacity for high quality digital learning.

The Representative Assembly also directs NEA to encourage its members and utilize their expertise to engage in professional learning that enhances their understanding of how to creatively and appropriately integrate digital tools and high quality digital learning into their instruction. Such professional learning should include sharing of expertise by members who can serve as valuable mentors and professional partners for other members who are new to digital instruction.

The Representative Assembly further directs that NEA work with stakeholders, including parents, students, and policy makers, to seize the opportunities that digital technologies provide. Some educators now have access to the technological tools to further professionalize teaching, vastly enhance and enrich student learning, and meet the individual needs of every student. It is time to ensure that ALL educators have access and are prepared to use these digital tools.


Blended and/or Hybrid Learning

Blended and/or hybrid learning is an integrated instructional approach in which a student learns, at least in part, at a supervised physical location away from home and through online delivery where the student has control over at least some aspects of the time and place of accessing the curriculum. The policy statement supports maximizing student learning by using both technology and real life educators in the process. It rejects the idea that effective learning can take place completely online and without interaction with certified teachers and fully qualified faculty.

The Definition of Fully Qualified Educators

The term “educator” includes teachers and education support professionals in preK-12 public schools, and faculty and staff of higher education institutions. Teachers should be fully qualified, certified, and/or licensed to teach the subjects they are teaching, including in online instructional settings.

Technology as a Tool

Technology is a tool to enhance and enrich instruction for students, and should not be used to replace educational employees who work with students or limit their employment.

Special Education Services

Use of virtual learning to provide instruction to students receiving special education services for behavioral/self-regulation needs will be determined by the IEP Team. The enrollment in a virtual school will not be used as a behavior consequence.




Amend by deletion and addition on page 11, lines 10-17, in paragraph one of Introduction:

NEA Resolution A-1 expresses NEA’s strong belief “that public educational opportunities for every American must be preserved and strengthened.” Consistent with [this belief,] NEA Resolution A-33, NEA “supports innovation in public education,” [NEA Resolution A-32, including education reform mechanisms that promote decentralized and] shared decision making, and diverse educational offerings. [and the removal of onerous administrative requirements.] The core assumptions that inform the charter school concept—i.e., innovation, autonomy, and accountability—indicate that charter schools have the potential to facilitate [these reforms and be] positive change and should be qualitatively different from what is available in mainstream public schools. [agents by developing new and creative methods of teaching and learning that can be replicated in mainstream public schools. Whether charter schools in fact will fulfill this potential—or instead simply relieve the pressure for genuine reform, and provide a gateway for further privatization—depends on how the charter schools are designed and implemented.]



Amend by deletion and addition on page 11, line 28, in criteria for granting charters, letter (a):

In order for charter schools to fulfill their intended purposes, they should be designed to (1) serve as [experimental] laboratories for field-testing curricular and instructional innovations, with an eye to whether those innovations can be incorporated into “mainstream” public schools, or (2) provide educational alternatives for students who cannot adequately be served in mainstream public schools.



Amend by deletion and addition on page 12, lines 40-45, in criteria for granting charters, letter (d):

Consistent with the purpose of charter schools as [experimental] field testing laboratories, charters should be of limited duration so that the results of the [experiment] curricular and instructional innovations can be assessed. [If the goals of the charter are being met, it can be renewed; if they are not, the charter can be revoked. Although a shorter or longer duration may be appropriate in particular circumstances, five years appears to reflect an appropriate balance between accountability, the opportunity for innovation to take hold, and the capital investment that often is necessary to start a charter school.]



Amend by deletion and addition on page 12, lines 46-47, through page 13, lines 1-3, in criteria for granting charters, letter (d):

The charter holder should not be immune from scrutiny for the period of the charter. Charter schools must be held to the same accountability standards as all other public schools.  [Because the public education that is provided to children is involved, the charter school should be monitored on a continuing basis, and should be subject to modification or closure at any time if the children or the public interest is placed at risk.]



Amend by addition on page 13, line 15, in “The Design and Operation of Charter Schools,” letter (a):

In order to achieve their intended educational outcomes, it may be necessary for charter schools to be freed from some of the requirements that apply to mainstream public schools, and have increased autonomy in regard to such matters as curriculum, instruction, staffing, budget, internal organization, calendar, and schedule. In other areas, however, the status of charter schools as public schools and the strictures of accountability should predominate, and in these areas they should be subject to the same local and state statutory and administrative requirements as mainstream public schools. This would include, among other things, requirements dealing with health and safety, public records and meetings, licensure/certification of teachers and other employees, finance and auditing, remittance of employee and employer contributions to retirement systems, student assessment, civil rights, and labor relations. Prior to employment at a charter school, educators must be given full disclosure with regard to working conditions, right of return, transfer rights, and financial implications.



Amend by deletion and addition on page 13, lines 30-38, in “The Design and Operation of Charter Schools,” letter (b):

Charter schools should have some discretion in selecting or rejecting students. [Like magnet and other specialty public schools, they] They should be allowed to serve an identified target population [, such as at-risk students, students with a particular academic emphasis or interest, students with certain disabilities, and students from one educational level as opposed to others (i.e., elementary, middle or high school). But, again like]. Like mainstream public schools, there should be no screening of students on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, English-language proficiency, family income, athletic ability, special needs, parental participation in school affairs, intellectual potential, academic achievement, or what it costs to educate particular students. [Nor should charter schools] Furthermore, charter schools should not be allowed to screen students indirectly, [Thus, for example,] and no [would-be] potential student should be denied the opportunity to attend a charter school because the school is unwilling to make adequate arrangements for his or her transportation.





Amend by deletion on page 21, lines 16-18:

There are specific advantages to public as opposed to private pre-kindergarten, and the public schools should be the primary provider. [Because of the realities of the current pre-kindergarten market, however, NEA does not oppose the inclusion in a state’s universal pre-kindergarten program of private, non-profit, non-sectarian providers that meet specified criteria. These criteria] Criteria should be designed to ensure program quality (essentially the same requirements that would apply to public school pre-kindergarten) and preserve the principle of church/state separation.