As we begin the sixth year of our 21st century, I’d like to share a few ed-tech wishes and resolutions. These are reflective of our nonprofit membership organization’s work with a broad array of partners and stakeholders in this country and beyond, and across the learning landscape. They also reflect our mission–to improve learning and preparation for all 21st-century learners–and our excitement about the opportunities for innovation in the coming year.
(1) First of all, I’m looking for a systemic national conversation on the future of educational technology. By systemic, I mean involving all essential elements, functions, and stakeholders in the ed-tech arena, from federal, state, and local officials to teachers and tech coordinators, parents and students, administrators and school board members, training and professional development practitioners, and the private and public organizations that serve, and are served by, this vital domain.
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) can claim some success in initiating comprehensive conversations. We convened major stakeholder groups to develop the NETS, the widely accepted National Education Technology Standards for students, teachers, and administrators. Our annual conference, the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC), attracts more than 15,000 uniquely diverse attendees; our program focus in 2006 is “charting an intentional future” for education. And we represent more than 85,000 education professionals worldwide from all job functions, levels, and sectors.
However, I do believe that the federal government holds the key for this national conversation. In this country, it contributes only a small part of most school budgets, but through its regulatory power it exerts a huge influence on education priorities and possible outcomes. Witness the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Surely, most U.S. educational professionals and entities have felt its impact on their daily work–on testing and assessment, on data requirements and systems, on products and markets. In 2006, we’ll begin the debates on reauthorizing NCLB, and that drives the next item on my ed-tech wish list.
(2) Let’s align NCLB’s accountability mechanisms with the skills necessary for future success in the emerging workplace and society, and then both support and measure progress with those. Employers and civic life in this new century require nimble, critical thinkers at ease with technology and with the fact of change itself. We need citizens and workers who can access and analyze information from any media–whether it’s text, image, sound, numbers, or other kinds of data.
A reauthorized NCLB should assess learners’ progress on the array of essential 21st-century literacies. It should hold schools accountable for how well they help students achieve the skills that maximize future opportunity. Let’s measure what’s real and meaningful as we prepare students to meet the world they will face. I look forward in 2006 to a lively and systematic debate about how we can improve NCLB and make it more relevant for today’s students.
(3) We also need to address the national crisis of teachers ill-prepared to teach in the digital environments that are available for learning and generally required for working. Here, too, the federal government is a key player. Many states and districts have counted on Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program funds for all or most of their professional development related to emerging essential skills and use of digital tools.
At this writing, EETT funding levels for fiscal year 2006 were not final, although Congress seemed likely to cut program dollars at least by half from prior levels. The national crisis isn’t solved, and–so far–we don’t see other national initiatives or programs filling this gap.
I wish to protect EETT and other educational technology program funds. I wish we would see Congress re-establish programs to facilitate modern teacher preparation across the nation, and I wish NCLB’s official definition of “highly qualified teacher” included effective use of modern digital tools and resources. If we leave teachers behind, our students will be left behind as well.
(4) Students and teachers are primary subscribers within the modern learning landscape, but I want the entire school system transformed to use all available digital resources. That means maintaining access and connectivity for the entire learning community, including parents, administrators, and school boards.
The eRate has played an absolutely vital role in this regard, and we’re committed to strengthening that program. And I wish with all my heart that education would be front and center as we reauthorize the Telecommunications Act. I wish for a streamlined application process, sensible systems of oversight, and continued significant help–especially for districts disadvantaged by disaster and/or limited economic opportunity.
(5) Finally, we’ll be working throughout the coming year to help Congress and the Bush administration better understand educational technology and workforce issues. And here’s where recent experience with ISTE’s international affiliates and partners is very much in my mind. I see the excitement, the motivation, and the coordination with which countries as diverse as China,
Costa Rica, and Denmark approach their need for skills and training essential to success in the 21st century. I see their systematic plans and programs and worry for the future of society within the U.S. if we can’t muster our own version of that energy, optimism, and unity of vision.
I want us to fund clearinghouses and technical assistance centers that reflect not only the aims of education in a democratic society, but also our economic development and workforce strategies and the best practices and models used by other countries.
We do see the possibility for some systemic legislation emerging from the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) caucus. We’ll be watching developments there very closely, participating as appropriate, and sharing what we learn as broadly as we can.
My final wish is for you to get involved in public policy and advocacy activities–this year, this month, this week! The best way for your voice to be heard is to work with local and regional associations–especially those with links to national and international organizations, such as ISTE affiliates (www.iste.org/affiliates). Advocate for the programs that make a difference in your schools and districts. Invite policy makers and elected representatives to your schools, so they understand the human value of their budget decisions and become invested in your success. To become a member of the Education Technology Action Network (ETAN) go to http://www.edtechactionnetwork.org.
Don Knezek is the chief executive officer of ISTE.