Over the next five years, the Clinton Administration wants the federal focus to shift from helping schools get technology to helping them implement it. That was the message in the administration’s proposal to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the government’s single largest investment in K-12 education, which was sent to Congress May 21.

The proposal, called the “Educational Excellence for All Children Act of 1999,” sets out the administration’s new goals in helping to spur educational reform. ESEA must be reauthorized by Congress every five years.

The new proposal is a long way from becoming official policy. It’s likely to undergo significant changes in Congress this summer before it’s signed into law.

But in an exclusive interview with eSchool News, Linda Roberts, special advisor to the White House on school technology, said the proposal as it stands now is characterized by a shift in focus from getting technology into the classroom to using it wisely and effectively to achieve comprehensive reform.

Roberts outlines key points

Roberts outlined four key focal points of the administration’s approach to technology funding over the next five years:

1. Support the preparation of teachers (including future teachers) to effectively use technology in their classrooms.

“We realize we have to reach out to the next generation of teachers,” Roberts said. “In fact, we think (professional development) is so important that we built it as a separate title.”

Under Title III (Technology for Education), the government would continue to support the Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology program, which it launched this year. The program helps consortia of public and private entities train new teachers to use technology to create engaging learning environments that prepare students to achieve state and local standards.

But Title II of the new act, High Standards in the Classroom, would expand federal support of teacher training intiatives. Under Part A of Title II, “Teaching to High Standards,” funds would be allocated by formula to the states to help school districts provide teachers and administrators with access to high-quality professional development activities that are tied to state and district standards and assessments. These funds could be used to train teachers and administrators in effective uses of classroom technology, for example.

2. Target technology support to the neediest schools and communities.

“We have to close the digital divide–we’re not there yet,” Roberts said.

Under the new proposal, future Technology Literacy Challenge Fund moneys would explicitly target high-poverty, low-performing schools. To help build the necessary capacity to use technology effectively, the neediest districts would be encouraged to partner with “technology proficient” districts, colleges and universities, businesses, and nonprofits.

The administration’s proposal also continues support for the Community-Based Technology Centers program, which was introduced last year. The program would support the development or expansion of community technology centers to serve disadvantaged residents of high-poverty areas. The centers would provide access to technology and training for community members of all ages.

3. Stimulate the development of innovative technology applications.

“We’ve got to think of the next generation of technology tools for learning,” Roberts said. “Our focus will be on supporting projects that are of national significance in this area.”

The administration’s proposal would combine the Star Schools and Technology Innovation Challenge Grants programs into a single new program called “Next Generation Grants.” School districts, states, colleges and universities, businesses, and nonprofits would be encouraged to compete for funds in a public-private consortium to develop new technology learning tools.

Successful projects would create innovative models for using technology to improve teaching and learning, such as simulations, virtual realities, or other cutting-edge applications.

4. Expand the focus on technology evaluation.

A new focal point for the administration’s proposal is an emphasis on technology evaluation, Roberts said: “We’re calling for long-term studies to research the impact of technology on today’s learners” to find out what works and what doesn’t.

Though only $2 million of this year’s budget will be spent on evaluation, the new proposal would let the secretary of education set aside up to four percent of the total Title III funding to support future planning and evaluation projects.

Changes and amendments likely

Congress will hold hearings to address the administration’s new reauthorization plan this summer. While the Republicans who chair the education committees in both legislative branches agree that support for technology must lead to increased performance in schools, they balk at creating new federal programs to achieve this goal.

“It is essential that any reforms in federal education legislation get funding into the hands of local educators in the most efficient manner, so that they can determine the priorities and needs of their students,” said Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth, and Families.

Castle added, “We must find a way to consolidate…the different funding streams that are available for technology in ways that allow for a truly coordinated and cohesive educational technology effort.”

Other lawmakers plan to amend Title III of the administration’s reauthorization act. Sens. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., for example, have co-sponsored legislation called the “Digital Education Act.” The bill would provide an additional $95 million in funding to create new digital educational resources to improve the types of services local public broadcasting stations can offer to schools.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., plans to introduce an amendment to Title III that would provide additional funding for the neediest school districts to purchase resources for their school library media centers–including CD-ROM collections and other digital resources.

“The average copyright date of a book in a school library is 1965,” said Greg McCarthy, press secretary for Sen. Reed, explaining the need for the senator’s amendment.

U.S. Department of Education

http://www.ed.gov

Educational Excellence for All Children

Act of 1999

http://www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/ESEA/

index.html

House Committee on Education and the Workforce

http://www.house.gov/eeo

Sen. Thad Cochran

http://www.senate.gov/~cochran

Sen. Edward Kennedy

http://www.senate.gov/~kennedy

Sen. Jack Reed

http://www.senate.gov/reed