Shaping the nation’s ed-tech agenda

In January, President George W. Bush unveiled his education plan, “No Child Left Behind,” which called for a consolidation of educational technology funding into a single block grant that states would administer. The Senate and House of Representatives have introduced separate bills that would enact the president’s proposals and fund educational technology at around $1 billion. Yet, Bush’s own budget, released April 9, would cut ed-tech funding from its current level of $872 million down to $817 million. Here’s a sampling of opinions about these federal proposals.

Sue Collins, former Senior Vice President of and member of the congressional Web-based Education Commission

What makes the U.S. competitive is its intellectual capital and its citizens’ capacity for innovation. Both intellect and ingenuity require a highly educated population–the path to which begins in our schools. All of our children, wherever they live, must be offered full opportunity to pursue that path.

The congressional Web-based Education Commission, established in 1998 and chaired by Sen. Bob Kerrey, spent the last year examining the educational opportunities and issues surrounding the use of the internet–a technology that substantially widens the educational path. Among the commission’s many recommendations, three areas in particular–the development of high-quality content and applications, professional development for teachers, and broadband access–have a direct impact on our educational competitiveness.

  • High-quality online content and applications–Imagine a classroom where students are engaged with events as they’re happening in the world, discussing late-breaking news and researching questions that arise. The internet makes that opportunity available today–with programs such as Classroom Radio, a collaboration between bigchalk and National Public Radio, and CASKE, in which students experience, via the internet, a sea kayaking expedition through Central America. In Classroom Radio, daily programming from NPR, complete with grade-appropriate lesson plans matched to state and national standards–and augmented by bigchalk’s database links–are stored on the web site for downloading to classroom computers. Two important things make internet-based Classroom Radio different from conventional radio: this rich resource is available anytime–today, next week, and next year–and the resources of the internet, including searchable databases and learning communities, are just a mouse click away.

  • Professional development–It’s no surprise that the internet, with its capacity to facilitate distance learning, now makes it easier and more convenient for teachers to improve their skills. What is surprising, and quite exciting, is the way the internet enables other forms of professional development. For example, bigchalk has an innovative program, called GENwww.Y, in which teachers and students work together, as partners, to develop the technical skills they need to infuse technology throughout their school, one lesson at a time. GENwww.Y, which was selected as an “exemplary” program for professional development by the U.S. Department of Education, uses internet-based consultants and courses to achieve its goals. And the lessons developed by each student-teacher partnership are archived on the web for others to use.

  • Broadband access–In January 1999, the Federal Communications Commission defined broadband as having the capability of supporting, in both directions, a speed in excess of 200 kilobits per second in the last mile. There are a variety of broadband technologies that schools can choose from. But the important point is that they all provide the fast access required for viewing images, watching video, listening to audio, or gathering data.
More support for high-quality content will increase the effectiveness of online learning. More support for internet-based staff development will allow schools to maximize their use of technology in support of educational goals. And when all of our schools have reliable, high-speed connections to the internet, our children will begin having equal access to the resources it provides.

Bill Rodrigues, Vice President of Dell’s education and health care sector and co-chair of the CEO Forum on Education & Technology

Information technology is transforming the global economy and drastically changing the way business and society operates. Understanding how to employ technology to locate and evaluate information; to learn, reason, make decisions, and solve problems; and to collaborate and work in teams will be essential abilities in the rapidly changing world. These are the 21st-century skills that will be crucial for students to thrive in the digital age.

Without a serious and significant investment in these skills, curricula, and accountability, our schools face the almost impossible challenge of trying to produce graduates for a 21st-century work force while using outdated educational environments. This is a critical national issue that must be addressed in the proposed federal legislation.

The current House, Senate, and Bush administration proposals, including President Bush’s proposal “No Child Left Behind,” are important contributions to the future of education policy. As co-chair of the CEO Forum on Education & Technology, a partnership between business and education leaders who are committed to promoting and assessing the progress of technology within America’s schools, I believe we have an excellent opportunity to build on these current proposals in the areas of education technology.

In a special policy brief released March 20th, the CEO Forum recognized the many good education initiatives currently under debate. However, we feel that in order to meet the demands of the global economy, we must look at all aspects of federal educational technology investments–including student achievement, professional development, federal funding, infrastructure, and research and development.

After examining the various reform proposals available, we made a series of strategic recommendations on the most effective role of technology in education policy reform. These include:

  • Broaden student achievement to include 21st-century skills–These skills include the critical components of education technology: digital-age literacy, inventive thinking, effective communication, and high productivity. Twenty-first century skills should be an additional subject area, in addition to the traditional subject areas of learning that include math, science, and English. These skills should also be embedded within the traditional subjects.

  • Expand federal support for education technology investments–The federal government should continue to emphasize equity in funding by ensuring that schools with the greatest need benefit most from federal education technology programs. In addition, by 2003 the federal government should apply at least 30 percent of its education technology funding to provide sustained and intensive, high-quality professional development for the integration of technology into the curriculum.

  • Increase investment in research and development and dissemination–The federal government should increase its investment in dedicated education technology research and development to at least $100 million. The government also should fund President Bush’s $15 million proposal for a Web-based Clearinghouse of Best Practices in Education Technology. The creation of an education technology clearinghouse is an effective way for educators to gain a better sense of the quality of work achieved by their peers. This clearinghouse also would support more effective professional development.
We know that when integrated into the curriculum to achieve specific educational objectives, technology can produce dramatic results. The CEO Forum wants to assure that clear goals, priorities, and standards are established to protect and further the value of education technology investments, as well as to equip our students with the skills they need to be successful in the 21st century.

Charles Benton, Chairman of the Benton Foundation

President Bush’s proposed FY 2002 budget represents, in my view, a step backward in our efforts to provide digital opportunities for all Americans. His education proposal, “No Child Left Behind,” called for the consolidation of existing educational technology programs into a state block grant. His FY 2002 U.S. Department of Education budget delivered on this promise with, not only a consolidation, but also a decrease in funding and a retreat from federal leadership. We see a similar pattern at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Educational technology has the power to enhance teaching and learning and vastly improve the productivity of the education enterprise. In 2001, U.S. Department of Education funding for the eight ed-tech programs authorized under Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act rose to an all-time high of $872 million. This was a 5,700 percent increase from the $23 million appropriated in 1993. President Bush has proposed a cut of $55 million for these programs, a 6 percent decrease. In our information society, this is the time for more educational technology funding and innovation, not less.

Moreover, it is questionable whether educators will be better off without the direct, categorical Title III ed-tech investments. Past experience with block grants and consolidation have shown:

  • The focus of the specific programs block grants replaced get lost;

  • Funding is often reduced from previous levels;

  • Block grants significantly reduce program accountability; and

  • The impact of federal funds is diffused.
At the Department of Commerce, the Technology Opportunities Program (TOP) has helped bring the benefits of the national information infrastructure to all Americans. TOP funding has also been an important source of funding for testing innovative and practical applications of new telecommunications and information technologies that serve the public interest. President Bush has proposed slashing TOP’s budget by 66 percent to $15.5 million, down from $45.4 million in FY 2001.

With the proposed consolidation and cuts in funding, further progress would be stunted as responsibility is simply passed to the states and non-governmental sector. From convening, to spurring innovation, to evaluating, strong federal leadership in this area is still critical. In view of what’s at stake, this is the time for greater federal leadership, not less.

Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Work Force (top), and Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., Chairman of the Education Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness

In March, President George W. Bush outlined his agenda for promoting the long-term growth of high technology, a prominent feature of which is his bold education plan to increase student achievement. And one way states and local school districts are attempting to increase student achievement is by using technology itself–online research services and distance learning initiatives, for example.

“No Child Left Behind,” President Bush’s plan to overhaul the federal government’s role in education, enhances education technology programs in several important ways.

First, the House version of his plan would increase funding for these programs by $28 million (for a total of $1 billion). Second, recognizing that the federal education bureaucracy often hinders innovation at the state and local levels, the Bush plan consolidates nine federal education technology programs into a single block grant. This will have two salutary effects: It will eliminate duplicative programs and thus save schools from having to submit multiple grant applications and waste money on administrative expenses; and it will ensure that more money goes directly to schools.

Finally, as part of a dramatic plan to enhance flexibility for local school districts, the House version of President Bush’s plan gives them the freedom to transfer up to 50 percent of the federal education dollars they receive among a variety of federal education programs as long as they demonstrate results. Significantly, local school districts won’t have to receive permission from the state or the education secretary to transfer funds. Hence, local school districts will be able to channel more funding into education technology–in addition to any education technology grant money they receive.

President Bush realizes that technology is not, in itself, a sure-fire way to increase student achievement; it needs to be employed by skilled educators with a comprehensive understanding of how it works and how best to use it. The president’s education plan gives states and localities more resources to expand their technology programs. And, just as important, it gives them the flexibility they need to target it to the schools that need it most. By promoting innovative state and local educational technology programs, President Bush’s plan will help ensure that today’s students become tomorrow’s innovators.


“EdTechNot” encourages healthy debate about technology’s role in schools

According to its creator, Forde Multimedia Consulting, this site was launched to encourage debate on the merits and pitfalls of using educational technology in schools. The site provides direct links to published articles and information written by opponents to technology in schools (EdTechNots), enthusiastic supporters of the eSchool movement (EdTechYeses), and those who have reservations about embracing or rejecting technology across the board (you guessed it: EdTechMaybes). The site’s creator, Jim Forde, said, “I hope that this space will be a refreshing change from the corporate ‘rah-rah’ associated with each new product launch.” Forde also hopes it will encourage those who are feeling battered by the increasingly trendy “techno-phobic” side of the issue. “As all real teachers know, both sides are right … and wrong,” he said. The site also links to organizations and top ed-tech research to help educators and administrators find “fuel” for their debates.


“Teaching about Religion” helps educators navigate a sticky subject

With California and many other states now mandating the teaching of religion in public schools, many educators are left to find their way through the bramble patch created by this sensitive and personal subject. Public school teachers by law must treat religion as an academic topic. That may sound simple, but it generates dilemmas. The issues touch parents and students as well as school personnel, and they extend well beyond the school community–and classroom teachers say they rarely get adequate guidance. “Teaching about Religion with a View to Diversity” is the theme of the resource material found at this web site. The site provides background basics on world religions, but it spurs teachers to focus on pluralism and civic justice. Site developer Dr. Mynga Futrell, a long-time curriculum developer, is no stranger to this thorny topic. “Objectivity in this arena is a nice-sounding goal, but it is terribly hard to obtain,” she said. “Public school teachers need to operate within a neutral conceptual framework.” Teaching about Religion serves teachers, principals, and curriculum and teacher training specialists. The site provides varied resources to the educational community to facilitate teaching about diverse world views. Among them are concept papers, background information, links to free teaching lessons and resources, quotations on religious liberty, and instructive links to other sites.


Avoid web-authoring mistakes with “School Web Page Development Guidelines”

This simple, straightforward web page contains some general guidelines for creating school web sites, as well as a list of content ideas to help school technologists select appropriate material to place online. The site’s authors recommend selecting site components that make the most sense for the type of school, the number of people available to create and maintain the home page, and the interests of the web page creators. For examples of web content created by other schools, visitors to the site can refer to the tutorial notes for “Introduction to the Internet for Teachers.” Once school technologists have decided on the content for their web site, they can use a set of specially designed school web page templates to get started. These templates include design ideas for home pages, as well as a variety of layouts for subsidiary pages. In addition, graphic artists in the community have donated school-related illustrations that can be used to liven up the web pages. The site’s creators also recommend that before embarking on a design of your own, it is helpful to critically examine other school web sites. The School Web Page Development Guide was created by Mass Networks Educational Partnership with funding from Sun Microsystems.


Get “Tapped In” to quality staff development

Tapped In is an online community of K-12 teachers and librarians, professional development staff, teacher education faculty and students, and researchers. The site helps education agencies, philanthropic organizations, and for-profit organizations use the internet to connect with and support teachers via the web. The technology that supports the community is a web-based, multi-user virtual environment designed to support large numbers of education professionals in a single virtual place. An integrated set of communication mechanisms (speaking, whispering, paging, nonverbal actions) and support tools (virtual whiteboards, sharable text documents, web page projection, transcript recorders) enable users to be more expressive than with other types of online tools. Tapped In’s staff helps organizations quickly and effectively plan and conduct online courses, discussions, focus groups, web tours, and other professional development activities, often in conjunction with face-to-face activities and other online technologies. Featuring a live, real-time, online Help Desk service, Tapped In also hosts small group “after school online” activities that teachers attend before their online project begins. Tapped In’s technology currently supports the online activities of more than 20 teacher training programs.


“Explore D.C.” gives visitors a tour of the nation’s capital

Produced by WETA, the public television broadcasting station in Washington, D.C., this web site gathers information about Washington’s local history, its role as the epicenter of the federal government, the importance of the African-American community in the city, and the succession of United States presidents. This glossy site is filled with photos of the Capitol, both past and present, and provides a great resource for teachers and students planning field trips or internships in the nation’s capitol this summer. Each neighborhood in D.C. has been thoroughly researched, and local attractions are highlighted with fascinating anecdotes and historical trivia. WETA also has created lesson plans to support each section, with a host of ideas for classroom activities. The lesson plans are suitable for intermediate and high school students, and topics range from the formal and informal roles of the president, to Washington during the Civil War, to the role of the Supreme Court, to the influence of Frederick Douglass in the District of Columbia. A timeline and a list of audio files complete the site.


“National Atlas of the United States” puts geographic awareness on the map

In 1997, the U.S. Department of the Interior began work on a new National Atlas of the United States. The new atlas was intended to update a large bound collection of paper maps published in 1970. Like its predecessor, this edition promotes greater national geographic awareness, but the new, largely digital version delivers easy-to-use, map-like views of America’s natural and sociocultural landscapes. The new National Atlas includes products and services designed to stimulate students and adults to visualize and understand complex relationships between environments, places, and people. It contributes to our knowledge of the environmental, demographic, economic, social, political, and historical dimensions of American life, serving as an essential reference, a framework for information discovery, an instrument of education, an aid in research, and an accurate and reliable source of government information. This site’s web pages include the new atlas’s earliest products and services.


“World Wise Schools” connects students with volunteers around the world

The Peace Corps’ World Wise Schools initiative is an innovative educational program that seeks to engage learners in an inquiry about the world, themselves, and others. Goals include broadening perspectives, promoting cultural awareness, appreciating global connections, and encouraging service. Since its inception in 1989 by the late Sen. Paul Coverdell, World Wise Schools has helped more than a million United States students communicate directly with Peace Corps volunteers all over the world. Initially set up as a correspondence “match” program between volunteers and U.S. classes, World Wise Schools has expanded its scope over the past 10 years by providing a broad range of resources for educators–including award-winning videos, teacher guides, classroom speakers, a newsletter, and online resources. Educators can use these materials to teach subjects as varied as language arts, environmental education, and international economics. This useful addition to the Peace Corps site connects educators and students with a volunteer, finds lesson plans relating to different countries, shows video clips (requiring RealPlayer) of Peace Corps educational videos, and lets kids read folk tales recorded by Peace Corps volunteers. It’s an inspiring way to encourage public service and global awareness among students.


“Cycles of the Earth and Atmosphere” should enhance the learning climate

This web site, created by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in collaboration with teachers, contains teacher-crafted classroom activities designed to enhance middle schoolers’ skills in science and math. “Cycles of the Earth and Atmosphere” builds the excitement of scientific discovery into the curriculum, along with the basic concepts middle school students are expected to master. Topics include climate, the greenhouse effect, global climate change, the ozone, and the atmosphere as a whole. Each section provides background materials and several classroom activities that let students become hands-on participants in the scientific discovery process. One animation on the site demonstrates how manufactured chemical compounds known as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) destroy the earth’s protective ozone shield: CFC molecules rise into the stratosphere, where ultraviolet radiation breaks them apart, releasing chlorine, which then attacks and destroys an ozone molecule by knocking off one of its oxygen atoms. The site’s content grew out of a series of summer workshops, in which 40 teachers worked with more than 60 scientists from NCAR and its parent organization, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. “The site is designed to be a work horse for teachers,” says project director Sandra Henderson. According to Henderson, everything on the site is aligned with the national standards for science and math education, which form the framework upon which most state and district standards are built. The site is a great resource for earth science teachers who want to use the web to bring unique learning opportunities into their classrooms.