U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige called for educators and industry leaders to think beyond the number of computers and internet connections in schools and focus instead on using technology as a means of providing high-quality education. Paige’s comments came at a national summit on educational technology held Jan. 25 in Washington, D.C.

“Over the past decade, our states have made great progress in getting computers and getting internet connections into the classrooms. It’s now time for the next step,” Paige said. “Our mission should be about the quality of education.”

He said computers not only should be turned on, but they should be integrated into the curriculum and “add value to student performance.”

Paige acknowledged that the digital divide is still an issue, but he said the number of computers isn’t as important as improving student achievement. “Access is still a problem in certain places that we have to fix. The [real] issue is how we use this access—how we get results,” he said.

Educators, industry leaders, and key policy makers from across the nation met at the half-day summit, which was hosted by the National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training.

Participants included former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley; Neil Bush, chief executive officer of Ignite! Learning; Phil Bond, U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce for Technology; and Chris Dede, Timothy E. Worth Professor of Learning Technologies at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education.

Paige invited the business community to help schools carry out the goals set forth in the new education law, No Child Left Behind.

“The president asked us to create a system that leaves no child behind. It’s going to require all of us. It will require us to do things differently. We can’t get there doing things the same way we’ve always done,” Paige said.

Technology will play a vital role in accomplishing the objectives of education law, he said.

“To accomplish this mighty mission, we have to become much more efficient and much more effective in our operations. The rest of the world has looked to technology for this increased effectiveness and efficiency, and I believe there’s much to be gained there for educators as well,” Paige said.

He said technology can help improve all aspects of education, and that’s why the new education law has technology initiatives dispersed throughout. Though only $867 million is targeted specifically for technology in 2002, down from previous years, Paige said several other programs provide grant dollars that may be used for technology.

“Instead of having a single category designated to technology, we find technology integrated throughout the bill,” Paige said. “In fact, there are 10 separate programs or more that address the topic of technology.”

He did not specifically identify all the programs, but the law allows technology to be used for student data management systems, distance learning, virtual schools, literacy, and teacher training.

“It is not just about spending more, it is about spending more wisely,” Paige said.

In addition, Paige identified teacher technology training as another important issue facing schools.

“We are getting to the point now where we have more technology available than we have teachers ready to use this technology,” Paige said. “So we have to … provide more opportunities for them to catch up.”

More research needed

For technology to improve student achievement, educators, policy makers, and industry leaders must identify technology tools that provide solutions to the specific problems that teachers face, Paige said. Seventy-one percent of teachers say there is a lack of good instructional software, according to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics.

“Now it’s time to move beyond hardware to software that actually brings a solution to teacher’s problems,” Paige said.

The No Child Left Behind Act earmarks $15 million to focus on long-term research and development of effective educational technology.

“The idea here is not to just have the technology, but to make sure the technology is designed to offer solutions to actual teacher problems, to discover what tools have the most dramatic impact on teachers, how students could be best benefited by this. These are the types of questions we seek answers to and invite your participation in,” Paige said.

Neil Bush, chief executive officer of Ignite! Learning, reinforced the role technology can play in helping all students achieve, regardless of their individual learning styles.

“All kids can learn, they just learn in different ways,” Bush said. “Beyond that, I think we all know intuitively that learning is effortless. We learn best by doing stuff, by applying concepts.

“The old memorize-and-forget model is failing our kids, it’s boring them to death,” Bush added. “Technology has an incredibly powerful potential … to engage the child in authentic learning.”

The 32-member panel speculated on how best to implement the research and development agenda imposed by the new federal education law. The group called for closer alignment of federal, state, and local policies.

Some groups think the United States is spending too little on research. A survey of international investment in ed-tech research, released by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) four days after the summit, found that less than $40 million was invested for non-military applications in fiscal year 2000. The survey also found that United States research programs are scattered across many different agencies with little coordination.

Despite the considerable public resources spent to acquire school technology, “a considerable gap separates the educational technology now in use from the incredible potential offered by these technologies,” the report notes.

“This is an absurd situation, given that we are only using a fraction of the potential power of this new technology,” said Dr. Henry Kelly, FAS president, in a statement.

“Simulations that can be the basis of discovery-based learning, systems that adapt to each student, multi-dimensional measures of a student’s expertise are crucial for ensuring that no child is left behind and that adults have easy affordable access to learning services,” he continued. “But the opportunity can’t be captured without a sustained research investment many times larger than the amounts now being spent.”

Related links:
National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training
http://www.nctet.org

Webcast of summit
http://www.minds.tv/service.asp?PID=webcast&CID=webcast&GCID=aschedule

Survey of International Investment in Educational Technology Research and Development
http://fas.org/learn/intl_rev/index.htm