Technology plays a primary role in many of the grant-winning projects announced during the last few months by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to conclude its FY 2000 awards. Even programs that do not have technology as a focus made significant awards to applicants proposing to use technology to enhance classroom instruction or improve student access to computers and other electronic equipment.

“The Department tends to be responsive to issues that are defined by state and local educators as priorities,” said Tom Carroll, who works with the Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology (PT3) program. “Because educators have focused heavily on using technology in classrooms, their interest is reflected in federal programs.”

In some cases, ED is seeking to support technology in particular, such as in Carroll’s PT3 program or the America Connects program described below. In other cases, ED is seeking to fund programs of any type that improve education. “If an applicant makes the case that technology is important to improving education, then that program may very well get funded,” Carroll said. “However, we haven’t taken a stance that every program needs to have a technology component.”

Nevertheless, as the following review of four recent awards would indicate, technology is playing a significant role in many ED grant programs today.

$990,000 for Arts in Education grants

In early October, Education Secretary Richard Riley and National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Bill Ivey announced $990,000 in grants to school districts to help students better understand and interpret the artistic content of electronic media images. The Arts in Education grant awards ranged from about $12,000 for a small school district to $150,000 for a large district; a total of 10 awards were made.

Funding recipients will design projects that educate students about how violence is used visually. They also will help students create their own media-based projects that offer an alternative to violent messages using film, video, web site design, and other art forms. Funds may be used for teacher professional development and curriculum development.

“With the pervasiveness of media in the lives of our young people, it becomes ever more imperative that they are able to interpret the messages they receive,” Ivey said. “If our children don’t learn to shape images, images will shape them.”

Children spend an average of 4.35 hours daily in front of a screen—watching TV or videotape, paying video games, or using a personal computer—according to an Annenberg Public Policy Center study cited by Riley.

Contact: Melinda Kitchell Malico, (202) 401-1008.

$5.9 Million for Teacher Quality Enhancement grants

ED awarded $5.9 million for eight new projects designed to better train teachers for the challenges of today’s classrooms. “This program takes traditional teacher education off the campus and into the heart of the classroom and community,” Riley said. “These beginning-teacher grants are an added benefit for school districts that have trouble attracting and retaining teachers, especially secondary teachers with strong backgrounds in the subjects they teach.”

The grants support partnerships involving one or more college or university teacher preparation program, university-level schools of arts and sciences, and a high-need K-12 school district. A K-12 district is considered “high need” if at least one of its elementary or secondary schools has 50 percent or more of its students from families with incomes below the poverty line, more than a third of its secondary teachers are not teaching in the content area in which they were trained to teach, or 15 percent or more of its teachers have left in the last three years.

Among the four priorities of the program is integrating technology in training, so beginning teachers can use technology effectively in the classroom.

One winner, California State University at Northridge, received nearly $240,000 this year (and nearly $1.2 million over five years) to work with the Los Angeles Unified School District to improve new teachers’ ability to integrate their field experiences into the classroom and to show them how to use technology for improving student achievement in elementary schools. Another winner, Bowling Green State University, has been awarded nearly $790,000 this year (and $4,154,493 over five years) to work with several local organizations and the Toledo Public School District to create an interactive, web-based teacher professional development system.

$42.3 for Smaller Learning Communities grants

ED also awarded $42.3 million to school districts participating in the Smaller Learning Communities program. The program will reach 354 schools in nearly 50 school districts this year.

The program is intended to create smaller learning environments within large high schools, as research indicates that students have better attendance, are less likely to drop out, exhibit fewer discipline problems, and perform better when attending smaller high schools.

Several of the career academies, schools-within-schools, and career clustering proposals funded for the upcoming year have technology at their core. For example, Eureka (Calif.) City Schools were awarded $37,000 for a program to create “a pilot career pathways program focusing on careers in health..” Learning to use scientific instruments and information technology are part of the core competencies upon which the program will be judged, according to the project description. Another California district, Fresno City Unifiied School District, will create 11 technology laboratories and set up mentoring and internship programs with local computer firms through a $49,900 grant.

According to sources, ED is intent on expanding this program. Of the $42.3 million awarded this year, approximately $33.6 million was made in three-year implementation grants. President Clinton has requested $120 million in his 2001 budget to develop small, safe, and successful high schools.

$2 Million to start America Connects Consortium

ED has awarded a one-year, $2 million contract to eight companies and nonprofits to create a group called the America Connects Consortium. The consortium will guide national efforts to create and sustain community technology centers (CTCs), which seek to close the digital divide by making new technologies more widely available.

“This award is an important step to ensure that everyone has access to computers, especially those in lower-income and hard-to-reach rural areas,” said Education Secretary Richard W. Riley. “Parents can connect with their children’s teachers and become more involved in local schools via the internet. The centers allow everyone to take advantage of the learning and ecomonic opportunities that have been beyond their reach until now.”

The American Connects Consortium will provide technical assistance to help new and existing CTCs effectively use educational technology to serve pre-school children and K-12 students in after-school settings, as well as engage senior citizens and adults in basic education, ESL, GED completions, and help with college or university coursework over the internet.

Among other things, the consortium will learn from models of excellence and research about what works best; ensure that CTCs are accessible to users with disabilities and that they have the appropriate technology required to meet their needs; and help solicit funding and equipment from corporations, foundations, or charitable organizations.

The eight partners that will make up the America Connects Consortium are CompuMentor of San Francisco; Alliance for Technology Access of San Rafael, Calif.; Education Development Center Inc. of Newton, Mass.; CTCNet of Waltham, Mass.; Information Technology Association of America; ICF Kaiser of Fairfax, Va.; Alliance for Nonprofit Management of Washington, D.C.; and the National Alliance of Business.

The Department of Education’s CTC program has doled out nearly $43 million in funding since its inception in 1998. President Clinton has requested $100 million in next year’s budget—up from $32.5 million—to establish 1,000 more centers in low-income and rural neighborhoods.

Contact: John Zentner, (202) 708-9061.