A new report from the Virginia-based State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) finds that meeting the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) will become increasingly difficult should lawmakers agree to cut federal ed-tech spending in line with the president’s plan.

The report comes as Congress mulls President Bush’s 2006 budget request, which calls for $1 billion less for the U.S. Department of Education (ED)–including elimination of the $500 million Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) block-grant program, intended to bolster technology use in the nation’s schools.

SETDA’s “National Trends: Enhancing Education Through Technology,” released March 9, examines how EETT funding is being used in 49 states and the District of Columbia to help achieve the promise of NCLB. Its findings reflect 99 percent of the federal dollars allocated nationwide for educational technology in 2003-04, SETDA said.

“The report provides overwhelming evidence of the critical role that educational technology is playing in improving student achievement, providing professional development to ensure the recruitment and retention of highly qualified teachers, and using data to allow states and districts improved accountability,” said Melinda George, executive director of SETDA.

George hopes the report will encourage Congress to reject the administration’s budget proposal, and especially its proposed elimination of the EETT program. “States are using these funds effectively and, in so doing, are positively impacting all of the goals of No Child Left Behind,” she said. “You really can’t implement NCLB without EETT funds.”

The report shows schools are using federal ed-tech dollars for more than simply purchasing equipment. In fact, 100 percent of EETT grant recipients say they rely on the program to implement NCLB-mandated reforms, including closing achievement gaps between rich and poor schools, retooling data systems to meet higher standards of accountability, and providing training to help boost teacher quality.

EETT also has seen a tremendous increase in the number of states–now at least 39–using these technology funds for assessment, outreach to parents, and data-driven decision making, according to the report.

“I think there is a common myth right now that all of this funding is just used for hardware and software,” George said. Yet, looking at the report, “I’m loath to think of a single example where it’s just about the technology.” Instead, she explained, school districts are using the money to give students opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have, especially in rural locales, where limited resources contribute to a lingering disparity between the haves and have-nots in public education.

In Midland, Texas, for example, a consortium of 15 rural school districts is using EETT funds to subsidize its Technology on Wheels (TOW) project, a traveling technology lab that motors from district to district, giving students the opportunity to use cutting-edge learning tools–from wireless laptops and global positioning devices to electron microscopes and multimedia presentation tools. Aside from paying for the hardware, the grants also provide funding for technology professionals to assist with teacher training, lead student activities, and conduct hands-on demonstrations.

In Nevada, George said, K-12 educators are leveraging federal dollars to foster valuable partnerships with local universities and institutions of higher learning across the state. In one example, the University of Nevada-Reno has joined forces with five rural school districts to measure the effects of various technology initiatives on student achievement in middle-school science classes.

And in Georgia, educators are using EETT funds to sponsor workshops and professional development opportunities to promote the use of higher-order thinking skills and project-based learning opportunities via the Engaging Students in Science and Math training program, a statewide initiative intended to help educators prepare students for success in the technology-driven 21st century.

According to the report, other EETT-funded projects include Missouri’s eMINTS program, a classroom technology initiative that provides software and targeted professional development to help close achievement gaps; a statewide instructional management system in Pennsylvania that enables teachers to assess student achievement and generate effective remediation; a data warehouse in Vermont used to demonstrate adequate yearly progress in accordance with NCLB; and a teacher retention and recruitment program in North Carolina.

“These teachers like the way technology is changing the way they teach, and the enthusiasm with which their students approach learning,” said Frances Bryant Bradburn, director of instructional technology for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

George said these examples are proof that EETT is working. But she fears many of the programs are in danger of being scaled back–or even eliminated–if EETT disappears in 2006.

From 2002 to 2004, states received approximately $692 million a year in EETT funding. In 2005, a 30-percent reduction cut the program to $496 million. Today, 81 percent of school districts currently tap federal coffers to fully subsidize or partially supplement various technology initiatives, according to SETDA. In fact, 12 states– Arkansas, Arizona, Delaware, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Oregon, Vermont, and Wisconsin–rely on EETT as their sole source of school technology funding, and at least 25 others say EETT is a major contributor to statewide ed-tech grant initiatives.

For SETDA, the report is just latest salvo in the debate over federal education spending.

On March 10, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings went before members of the House appropriations subcommittee to lobby for the president’s $56 billion education budget, which is weighted heavily in favor of NCLB–the very law ed-tech advocates say will be in peril if the Bush budget passes as is.

The Bush administration says its funding plan for schools focuses on doing away with substandard initiatives in favor of programs that work and practices the kind of fiscal restraint necessary to begin chipping away at the mounting federal deficit, which Bush has vowed to cut in half over the next four years.

“Given the fiscal realities, we must target our resources wisely–toward flexibility and results,” Spellings told lawmakers in defense of the proposed cuts.

But the argument has done little to sway ed-tech advocates, many of whom have made the case for EETT by contacting their members of Congress.

In conjunction with the Ed Tech Action Network, a joint venture sponsored by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), ed-tech advocates reportedly have sent more than 4,000 faxes and email messages to members of Congress supporting the restoration of EETT funding.

Jeff Mayer, a teacher for the Sheridan Public Schools in Colorado, wrote to Sens. Wayne Allard, a Republican, and Ken Salazar, a Democrat: “As a teacher in a high-needs district, I know that the EETT program brings enormous value to the schools in my district. Most significantly, the EETT program helps my district comply with the No Child Left Behind Act…by providing funding for professional development programs that help teachers become highly qualified and helping students to meet rigorous academic achievement standards.”

In a letter to Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., Kim Rumberger, a technology assistant for Barnstable-West Barnstable Elementary School, wrote: “Each day, our world becomes increasingly dependent on all forms of technology. I often ask my students to name just one career that is not somehow technology driven, and to date they cannot, because technology touches every career, every family, every individual…Why, then, do we propose reductions in the funding that will give us the opportunity to prepare our children for their future and for the future of our country?”

It’s a question for which George and other ed-tech advocates doubt Congress has an answer.

Links:

U.S. Department of Education
http://www.ed.gov

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

Ed Tech Action Network
http://www.edtechactionnetwork.org