Educational technology advocates are quietly celebrating the survival of a handful of specific technology programs in the final version of the education bill approved by House and Senate negotiators Dec. 11. But their victory was overshadowed by the approval of other, more controversial measures, such as mandatory testing of students in reading and math.
Under the plan, millions of students in grades three through eight would be required to take the annual tests, with their scores affecting for the first time how federal aid to their schools is allocated and spent.
“These reforms mean new hope for students in failing schools and new choices for parents who want the best education possible for their children,” said Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, who chaired the House-Senate committee that approved the bill.
It now goes to the House and Senate for a final vote, where it is virtually certain to win final passage in the next few days, despite opposition from leading education groups. Lawmakers expect the bill to be on President Bush’s desk by next week.
While Boehner and others called the measure groundbreaking, some observers complained about the final product.
National Education Association President Bob Chase called it “a tremendous disappointment,” saying it would force states to develop and give the annual tests without enough funding from Washingtonat a time when they are being hit hard by a recession.
“Considering this bleak fiscal climate, these unfunded and underfunded mandates are irresponsible,” Chase said. “The broad policy goals are laudable, but the lack of support to states suffering an economic decline is lamentable.”
Other opponents of the package include the National School Boards Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, and the American Association of School Administrators.
Overall, the education bill authorizes $26.5 billion next year for elementary and secondary educationabout $8 billion more than this year and about $4 billion more than Bush requested, but nearly $6 billion less than Senate Democrats wanted.
The annual reading and math tests for all students in grades three through eight would tell states which schools are effective. Those with persistently low test scores would have to give some of their federal aid to students for tutoring or transportation to another public school. More aid would flow to schools whose scores don’t improve for two years in a row, but if scores don’t improve afterward, a school’s staff could be changed.
States and school districts also would get more freedom over how they spend federal dollars, but they’d be required to send annual “report cards” showing a school’s standardized test scores compared to others locally and statewide.
Also included is Bush’s signature reading program, which gives schools nearly $1 billion per year for the next five years in hopes that every student will be able to read by third grade.
Ed-tech programs survive
Overshadowed by the controversial testing requirement and other high-profile measures is the fact that a handful of key technology programs from Title III of the current Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) will be preserved, kept apart from a new technology block-grant program approved by lawmakers Oct. 30.
The programs in questionPreparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology (PT3), Star Schools, Community Technology Centers, and Ready to Learnwere kept as separate programs in the Senate version of the bill, but the House had voted to fold all but Ready to Learn into the $1 billion block-grant program.
As a compromise, PT3 was moved to Title II of the Higher Education Act and is no longer part of ESEA. Legislators have authorized it for 2002 and 2003 “at such sums as may be necessary.”
PT3 makes grants to partnerships between school districts and colleges of education to train preservice teachers how to integrate technology into their teaching before they graduate. In its three years of existence, the program has made 441 grants totaling $275 million.
“We are thrilled that we have two more years of life for a program that truly is reinventing teacher preparation across the nation, even beyond technology,” said Don Knezek, director of the National Center for Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology, which is overseen by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). “This gives us an opportunity to see further results of the program before it is block-granted or turned into a program to stand on its own.” PT3 was funded at $125 million in fiscal 2001, up from $75 million in its first two years. “What we’d ideally like to see is $125 million this year and a similar amount the next year,” Knezek said. “Anything below $100 million will seriously cripple moving the program forward.”
The Star Schools, Community Technology Centers, and Ready to Learn programs were moved from Title V, Part B of the newly reauthorized ESEA (“Enhancing Education through Technology”) to Title V, Part D (“Fund for the Improvement of Education.”)
“Generally we are very pleased with the way the technology programs have come outthey did not really change from point A to point B,” said Jee Hang Lee, senior legislative associate for Leslie Harris & Associates, which represents the Consortium for School Networking and ISTE in legal matters.
The Fund for the Improvement of Education is a separate fund for the education secretary to keep certain programs “of national significance,” Lee said. Transfering the technology programs to this fund amounts to a bit of political gamesmanship that lets House Republicans boast that they trimmed ESEA from 55 to 45 programs, he explained.
“It is our expectation that the money for Star Schools, Community Technology Centers, and Ready to Teach will not come out of the [$1 billion authorized for the] technology block grants,” Lee said.
While ed-tech advocates were happy to see these programs survive in the bill’s final version, some are concerned that a new measure known as “transferability” might divert money earmarked for technology to more pressing needs.
The measure allows school districts that meet certain eligibility requirements to transfer up to 50 percent of their federal funding from certain programsincluding technologyto other uses. Lee said he fears the bill’s testing provisions will force schools to take advantage of this flexibility by using technology funds to help meet the new accountability requirements.
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Consortium for School Networking
International Society for Technology in Education
Details of education bill approved by House-Senate conference committee: