Two leading educational technology advocacy groups have sent a joint position paper to President Bush’s staff and to members of Congress, urging continued federal leadership on key ed-tech issues.

The document is a response to Bush’s education plan, which calls for a consolidation of technology funding into a single block-grant program that would be administered state by state.

The 14-page “Preparing the Classroom for the 21st Century: An Agenda for Federal Involvement in Educational Technology” was written by Leslie Harris & Associates, the legislative representative for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).

“We will use this as a ‘talking points’ document,” said Lee Jee Hang Lee, the firm’s senior legislative associate. “We wanted to map out how we feel about education technology, and we wanted to have a new document to provide guidance to the 107th Congress.”

According to Lee, the policy paper has been sent to key members of Congress, particularly to education-related committee members. It also was directed to the Department of Education and to President Bush’s domestic policy staff.

The paper references many of the findings of the Congressional Web-based Education Commission, a bipartisan commission charged by the Clinton administration with researching and reporting on the internet’s potential to transform learning. In January, the commission released a report titled, “The Power of the Internet for Learning: Moving from Promise to Practice.”

“ISTE and CoSN both contributed testimony to that commission, and they felt the commission had some great recommendations,” said Lee.

The ISTE and CoSN document praises federal education technology initiatives that have flourished during the past several years.

“Through support for programs embodied in Title III of [the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA] and the eRate, among others, the federal government has spurred the development of innovative learning strategies and connected thousands of schools to the internet,” the report points out.

But, without sustained federal leadership in key areas, the Bush plan risks undermining the progress schools have made already, the groups say.

“ISTE and CoSN stand ready to work with Congress and the [Bush] administration to identify where consolidation and additional flexibility may be appropriate,” according to the position paper. “But we believe that the gains that have been achieved thus far will be imperiled if the federal government simply cedes its leadership role in this area.”

Bush’s plan, called “No Child Left Behind,” states his preference for block grants, in which states are given chunks of federal money and left to determine which state programs that money will be allotted to, and in what proportions.

“We used this [position] paper to talk about the three primary areas where we feel consolidation [of funding] is not a good idea,” said Lee.

First, consolidation could hurt the research and development portion of the national education technology plan, Lee said.

“There is just no way to efficiently disseminate best practices for each of the 50 states,” he said. “The federal government has to have a role in that area.”

Second, said Lee, ISTE and CoSN do not believe in consolidation of funds for preservice training for teachers, and they urge the continuation of the Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology (PT3) program as it exists now.

PT3 is slated to disburse $125 million in grants this year to consortia of teachers’ colleges, community organizations, and local school districts to ensure that future generations of classroom teachers have the skills needed to use technology effectively in their lessons. It is one of nine Title III programs that would be consolidated into block grants under Bush’s plan.

Finally, Lee said, “We hope the eRate will be left out of any block grant program. We fully support the continuation of the eRate as a separate fund.”

Keith Krueger, executive director of CoSN, said he thinks this is the most important of the groups’ recommendations.

“Bottom line, we want to make sure that the eRate is maintained as a separate activity,” he said. “If the Bush administration chooses to move to block grants, we don’t want to lose the momentum [the eRate has gained] so far.”

The latest developments on Capitol Hill seemed to indicate that CoSN and ISTE may get their wish on this last point. In testimony before the House Education and Work Force Committee March 7, Education Secretary Rod Paige said that Bush would not try to merge the eRate into a state-based block grant with other technology programs after all, contrary to what Bush had promised earlier. At press time, no other details of the Bush plan were yet available.

Krueger’s best advice to the new administration? “I’d say, listen to the folks who are really making ed-tech work. Let’s not lose the progress we’ve made so far, and let’s leverage it to continue to make progress in the future.”


Consortium for School Networking

International Society for Technology in Education

“Preparing the Classroom for the 21st Century: An Agenda for Federal Involvement in Educational Technology”

“No Child Left Behind” (Bush education plan)