The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has awarded $135 million in grants to train 400,000 new teachers in the use of technology in the classroom. The grants were announced just days before a new report from Market Data Retrieval (MDR) pointed to a lack of teacher training as the key factor hindering use of technology in K-12 classrooms.

The grants will build strong partnerships involving more than 1,350 entities, including universities, K-12 school districts, nonprofit organizations, and high-tech companies, to ensure that tomorrow’s teachers will be as comfortable with a computer as they are with a chalkboard when they enter the classroom.

“Training new teachers is particularly important, because schools will need to hire 2.2 million new teachers over the next five years,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley, who announced the grants Aug. 25. “Teachers tell us they do not feel very well-prepared for the challenges of the modern classroom. These grants will help teachers get the preparation they need to successfully integrate technology into their lesson plans at a time when it will be increasingly important.”

Research shows that classroom technology has little effect on student achievement unless teachers are technologically proficient, Riley said. That fact was underscored by the MDR report, released Aug. 30.

The “New Teachers and Technology” report is based on a survey of new and experienced K-12 teachers and shows that less than 40 percent feel “very well-prepared” or “well-prepared” to use computers in the classroom.

The report also suggests that teacher colleges are not doing their part in educating future teachers in integrating technology into the classroom. Though an estimated 40 percent of teachers will retire or leave the profession by 2004, only slightly more than one-third of new teachers polled said their college experience left them “very well-prepared” or “well-prepared” to use technology in the classroom, and 62 percent said that only one or two of their college courses included instruction on how to use technology to teach.

Few school districts or accrediting organizations require technology proficiency, the report also said. The majority of new teachers recalled that technology proficiency was not required for them to become certified (67 percent) or to get their first teaching position (83 percent).

Time for a change

The new ED grants aim to change all that. Many of the grants focus on the needs of low-income communities and rural areas, and a number of the projects involve historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic institutions, and tribal colleges.

Examples of the grants include:

• Mentoring for new teachers in six inner-city schools in Los Angeles.

• Reform of the teacher education at four Georgia colleges and universities to include a new emphasis on technology-enhanced, standards-based curricula.

• A new initiative in Maryland to base teacher certification, in part, on a demonstrated ability to use technology, as opposed to credit-hours or coursework.

• A project led by Vanderbilt University in Tennessee to develop web-based resources to help integrate technology into teacher education programs.

The grants leverage an additional $195 million in private-sector funds, for a total investment of $330 million in new teacher training, ED said.

Most of the projects involve partnerships between teacher colleges and K-12 districts, pairing prospective teachers with classroom veterans who are comfortable using technology in their teaching.

California Lutheran University, for example, will receive more than $1 million during the next three years to give teachers-in-training access to three county magnet schools that have incorporated technology into their classroom instruction.

Cal Lutheran students will observe lessons being delivered over the internet, spend time in classrooms during multimedia instruction, and talk to teachers about how they use technological advances to bolster teaching and learning.

“Technology is probably one of the most dynamic areas in education today . . . [but] we are not using it the best we can,” said Paul Gathercoal, director of the educational technology master’s degree program at Cal Lutheran. “That’s often due to not knowing how to use it well. With this grant, we’re going to prepare everyone . . . to use technology well and wisely.”