As another election season heats up, a longstanding consortium of educational technology advocates has unveiled a new initiative meant to spark a national conversation about the importance of computers in schools. Organizers say they’re looking for ed tech to become a central issue in campaigns from the local school board all the way to the presidency.

The National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training (NCTET) is a 10-year-old nonpartisan organization that examines and supports the use of technology to improve education and training in America.

Its initiative, called “Will Our Students Make the Grade,” is a grassroots campaign centered on three main objectives: to educate public officials about the positive impact of technology on teaching and learning; to encourage a commitment by candidates to providing technology tools for all students and educators; and to enlist stakeholders and community members to speak up for the nation’s children.

One way NCTET hopes to accomplish its goals is by encouraging voters and stakeholders at all levels to write to their local and federal lawmakers in support of educational technology initiatives and funding measures. Visitors to the organization’s web site will find instructions for how to contact a public official; ideas about ways to speak up at public forums; suggestions for getting the media involved in coverage of issues related to educational technology; and step-by-step instructions for inviting a public official or candidate to speak at a school or community meeting.

“We want individuals to speak up, to get these issues into the campaign dialogue as much as possible,” said NCTET board member Mark Schneiderman. “We need to call the candidates to task.”

Schneiderman, who serves as director of education policy for the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), said there’s been some concern among advocates that ed tech is not receiving the level of attention from policy makers that it once did.

With student-to-computer ratios falling and virtually all of the nation’s schools now online, Schneiderman says lawmakers have shifted their education agendas to address more in-vogue topics, such as the No Child Left Behind Act and the impending reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, to name two. What the average stakeholder sometimes doesn’t realize, he said, is that technology plays a critical role in helping schools meet the provisions of these and other national initiatives.

Ann Flynn, director of educational technology for the National School Boards Association (NSBA) and a fellow NCTET board member, agreed.

“People tend to take for granted that these issues are important to everyone,” she said.

Although technology is more pervasive in schools today, Flynn said, there are a number of impediments that prevent students from reaping the educational benefits of a digital learning environment.

What isn’t immediately obvious, she said, are the issues of professional development and staff and technical support that continue to plague schools as technology becomes more ingrained in the fabric of day-to-day learning.

“We need to ask how the resources we are investing in are being used to affect student achievement,” she said. It’s one thing to buy computers and put them in schools. The real challenge is ensuring that staff and students are prepared to use these machines to explore new learning opportunities–and it’s a challenge that is still ongoing.

“Technology needs to play a larger role” in education policy, she said.

Unlike a number of other Washington-based advocacy groups, NCTET does not lobby on behalf of a particular position or program. Rather, its membership–composed of the heads of major education associations, nonprofit organizations, and corporations–puts aside political differences to pool the ongoing efforts of their various constituencies on behalf of school technology advocates everywhere.

As part of its efforts, NCTET organizes policy briefings, conducts ed-tech forums, produces white papers and other research documents, and maintains a listserve on timely ed-tech issues.

“The core purpose is to convene education stakeholders to advance the cause of technology in education and training,” SIIA’s Schneiderman said.

The group wants candidates at all levels, from the local school board to the White House, to pledge their support for providing students with access to 21st-century learning technologies. This pledge should include providing the necessary leadership and vision, investing in technology in schools, offering educators the essential training and support, and ensuring that regulations and policies are modernized to support 21st-century education, the organization said.

“We need to mobilize the believers into speaking up during the election process,” Schneiderman said. “Educational technology is not really enough a part of the dialogue right now in the campaigns. … All politics is local. We need to get the people on the ground talking.”

NCTET will run public service announcements in a variety of educational publications to raise the visibility of ed tech in this election cycle and enlist the support of concerned students, parents, educators, business leaders, and education stakeholders, according to a statement.

The organization’s web site will provide a list of activities and resources for raising election-year awareness and driving public support for educational technology. One resource in the making is a form letter to candidates and newspaper editors, which stakeholders can use to express their views.

“Each organization is reaching out to its own constituents with many common goals in mind,” said NSBA’s Flynn of the effort. “It takes the entire community to create a shared vision. … There is much more work still to be done.”

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National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training