A new report from the 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 ed tech 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.

There also has been a tremendous increase in the number of states using EETT 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, districts are using the money to give students opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have, especially in rural areas, 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 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. Aside from paying for the hardware, the grants also provide funding for technology professionals to assist with teacher training and conduct hands-on demonstrations.

In Nevada, George said, K-12 educators are leveraging federal dollars to foster valuable partnerships with local universities. 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 to promote the use of higher-order thinking skills and project-based learning opportunities via the Engaging Students in Science and Math training program, which aims to help educators prepare students for success in the technology-driven 21st century.

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 about $692 million a year in EETT funding. In 2005, a 30-percent reduction cut the program to $496 million. Yet 81 percent of districts currently tap federal coffers to help subsidize 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.

See these related links:

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

State Educational Technology Directors Association
http://www.setda.org