The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has announced what is required of states as they apply for their share of the new $700 million educational technology block-grant program—and many state ed-tech directors who spoke with eSchool News said aligning their state technology plans to conform with the new rules will pose a challenge.

The grant program—called Enhancing Education Through Technology, or “Ed Tech” for short—was created after Congress combined several existing school technology programs, including the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund and Technology Innovation Challenge Grants, under the newly reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Ed Tech is a state-administered block grant program funded at $700.5 million in 2002. According to the grant’s newly-issued rules, the money must be used to improve student achievement through the use of technology in both elementary and secondary schools. Students must become “technology literate” by grade eight, and teachers must be able to integrate technology into their curriculum to benefit students.

“Our mission should be about the quality of education, not the quantity of computers. We must focus on how we use technology to get results. And that’s what this program is designed to do,” said Education Secretary Rod Paige.

State officials applying for these funds separately can download an application from ED’s web site now.

States also have the option of submitting a single, consolidated application that encompasses all federal education programs, and nearly all state ed-tech directors who spoke with eSchool News said they were taking this approach. The consolidated application is not expected to be available until later this month.

The applications must describe:

  • Goals for using advanced technology to improve student academic achievement, and how those goals are aligned with state academic standards.
  • Long-term strategies for improving student academic achievement through the effective use of technology in classrooms.
  • How the state will ensure that technology will be fully integrated into the curricula and instruction of the schools by Dec. 31, 2006.
  • How the state plans to address teacher preparation, professional development, and curriculum development to ensure that teachers and principals in the state are technologically literate.
  • The strategies the state will use to encourage the use of distance learning for the rigorous academic courses.
  • The steps the state will take to ensure that all students and teachers, particularly those in high-need schools, have increased access to technology.

A state may use up to five percent of its allotment for state-level activities. Half of the remaining funds must be distributed to local school districts according to their Title I formula, and half must be distributed on a competitive basis.

To accommodate states that might need funding immediately to maintain services as they make the transition from their old programs to the new program, ED will award about $150,000 per state immediately. Once applications for FY 2002 have been approved, the remaining funds will be distributed.

Every state will receive this transition money automatically, said Melinda George, executive director of the State Education Technology Director’s Association.

State officials are encouraged to start local competitions before they actually receive funding to avoid lag time in getting the money to local school districts, George said.

Completing the new applications will require state ed-tech directors to consult their existing technology plans, George said, and some might even have to retool them.

“The hope is that they won’t have to make dramatic changes to their existing plans,” George said. “Some of them may have to change if they are not as robust as [ED] wants. States may have to add some [elements].”

According to George, evaluating the impact technology has on improving student achievement has caused the most concern among state technology directors, as they could lose future funding.

Dean Bergman, state technology director for the Nebraska Department of Education, agreed that evaluation poses a significant challenge for states and school districts.

“This is a real paradigm shift in everyone’s thinking and forces change in how we do things,” Bergman said. The new requirements mark a shift away from a mentality of “just give me the technology money and let me decide how best to use it.”

Nebraska state officials are making “significant changes” to the state’s technology plan to align with the newly reauthorized ESEA, Bergman said. He added that he hopes the revised plan will be done “by late April.”

“We are asked to evaluate how students achieve in two different technology categories,” Bergman said. “One is verification of the student’s ability to function effectively in society with the use of technology. This one is less challenging, in that we have in place student technology standards that provide the basis for measurement. The other category is evaluating inproving student achievement in schools as tied to technology use in teaching and learning. This one is a challenge …, and we are still working on the best way to demonstrate it.”

Lan Neugent, assistant superintendent of technology for the Virginia Department of Education, noted that “the requirements of [the Ed Tech] program are complex and open to individual interpretation.” For example, how states define “high need” when it comes to developing their competitive grant programs is subject to interpretation, he said.

Neugent added: “The requirement that schools use scientifically based research is one of the most difficult to deal with. Schools, for the most part, will not have staff or expertise to meet the requirement.”

The Virginia Department of Education is developing a plan to provide districts with available research and model programs so districts can use them to validate their own approaches, Neugent said.

Hal Gardner, state director of educational technology for the Kansas Department of Education, said he also has a problem with the “scientifically based research” requirement—but for a different reason: “How do you try new things that haven’t been proven?” Gardner asked rhetorically.

As for the other requirements, Gardner said Pennsylvania is ahead of most other states and “I expect some of us will use them as an example.”

Julie Tritt Schell, Pennsylvania’s director of educational technology, agreed that evaluation “will be a challenging component [of the grant application process], but we recognize it to be one of the most valuable.”

“We already have a comprehensive strategic technology planning process—www.eTechPlanner.org—that is far more comprehensive than what is currently required [by Ed Tech], and we are actually looking forward to diving into developing the evaluation instruments,” Schell said.

Links:

Enhancing Education Through Technology
http://www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/esea/regsandguidance.html

State Education Technology Director’s Association
http://www.setda.org