Bush plan renews hope for vouchers

The Orlando Sentinel reports that a new program proposed in President Bush’s 2007 budget would renew the possibility of private school vouchers for public school students marooned in underperforming schools in the Sunshine State. Bush’s proposal comes one month after the Florida Supreme Court struck down a statewide program that would have offered similar vouchers to students. Officials from the U.S. Department of Education, however, said the state ruling would have no bearing on the federal program.


Bush: Cut $3.2B from education

For the second straight year, President Bush is asking Congress to cut education spending–this time, by more than $3 billion.

In his 2007 budget proposal, released Feb. 6, the president called for the elimination of 42 federal education-related initiatives–including the $275 million Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) block-grant program, the federal government’s primary source of funding for school technology, and the $347 million Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities program.

Bush had advanced the elimination of EETT last year, too, and Congress spared the program in its final 2006 budget–but not before cutting it nearly in half.

Overall, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) would receive $54.4 billion next year, down from $57.6 billion in 2006. Administration officials say the decrease is part of a broader campaign to reduce or eliminate funding for programs that have either fulfilled their promise or have failed to live up to expectations. The White House contends the cuts are necessary to rein in federal spending and trim the ballooning federal deficit–which Bush has vowed to cut in half by 2009–while balancing other priorities, including the war in Iraq, hurricane relief in the Gulf Coast, and massive tax cuts.

It’s too soon to know if lawmakers will back these proposed cuts to education programs during a congressional election year, but ed-tech advocates who spoke with eSchool News following yesterday’s announcement feared that possibility. Critics said the president’s plan fails to provide the resources necessary to prepare today’s students for the challenges posed by the global economy–a goal Bush himself identified during his State of the Union Address to Congress just six days earlier–and might prevent educators from achieving the promise of Bush’s signature No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the five-year-old law intended to boost student performance and bring more accountability to the nation’s schools.

“We are deeply disappointed that the administration has chosen, once again, to eliminate federal funding for educational technology,” said Don Knezek, chief executive officer for the International Society for Technology in Education. “Understanding and using technology are critical components of all students’ academic careers and, most certainly, barometers of their future employment prospects. Given the president’s emphasis in the State of the Union on the importance of developing math and science skills in America’s students in order to keep America competitive globally, we do not see how eliminating federal educational technology funding advances his global competitiveness agenda or helps our students.”

“While the governments of other nations–from the United Kingdom and Australia to Singapore, Japan, and China–believe that educational technology serves as the engine for their educational reform efforts, our federal leaders appear to believe otherwise,” said Keith Krueger, chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C.-based Consortium for School Networking (CoSN). “All evidence points to the fact that our states and school districts consistently use federal educational technology dollars to improve student achievement in core curricular areas such as math and science and to engage in professional development–the central pillars of No Child Left Behind and of the president’s new science and math initiatives. The administration’s lack of leadership on this issue will not only inhibit student achievement but will have serious ramifications for the future of this country.”

In a phone briefing with reporters on Feb. 6, Education Secretary Margaret Spelling rebuffed those criticisms, saying the president’s 2007 budget plan is in line with the priorities he singled out for emphasis during his State of the Union Address on Jan. 31.

At the top of that list is $380 million to support a new American Competitiveness Initiative, an ambitious program intended to boost the quality of math and science instruction in the nation’s schools by training as many as 100,000 full- and part-time teachers and increasing access for students to Advanced Placement and other college-level courses.

The budget also carves out nearly $1.5 billion for the president’s High School Reform Initiative aimed at expanding the tenets of NCLB–particularly with respect to increased assessment and improved performance for at-risk students–into the nation’s secondary schools. Falling in step with requests from the nation’s governors that America’s high schools offer more challenging curricula, the reform initiative also provides funds to increase the level of rigor in secondary-school classrooms from coast to coast.

“These new priorities will not undermine our long-standing commitments to help every child receive a [high-] quality education,” said Spellings.

In his proposal, Bush chose to keep spending level or, in some cases, increase it for a number of other programs the administration believes are critical to the success of failing schools under NCLB.

His proposal recommends level funding for Title 1 grant programs–providing $12.7 billion to states to support the implementation of NCLB-related reforms in the nation’s poorest schools, as well as an additional $200 million in first-time funding to help turn around low-performing institutions.

In addition, it sets aside some $55 million for the creation and integration of statewide data systems designed to improve graduation and dropout data, and to help states comply with federal reporting requirements–an increase of $30 million compared with 2006 levels.

Providing more options for parents was another area of focus in this year’s proposal.

Although states have made improvements to implementing NCLB choice options, ED officials say there still are too few alternatives in many districts for parents seeking a high-quality education for their children.

To counter this problem, the administration is asking Congress for $100 million to fund a new America’s Opportunity Scholarships for Kids program, which would give parents of students enrolled in schools identified as “in need of improvement” more opportunities to transfer their children to a private school or obtain other supplemental services.

Bush’s 2007 proposal also provides for an extra $100 million for state grants under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, bringing funding for that program up to $10.7 billion–capping off a 69-percent increase in funding that began in 2001, administration officials say.

“This budget request soundly targets resources where they are needed most and working best,” said Spellings. “It will enable us to continue to deliver results for all children under No Child Left Behind, and it tackles our vital priority to improve our global competitiveness by targeting achievement in math and science.”

Despite an emphasis on these and other reforms, critics of the 2007 budget plan say the loss of certain programs, including EETT, will only make it more difficult for educators to improve the quality of education in the nation’s schools.

“The administration’s efforts to kill funding for technology under [EETT] undermines efforts to improve the science and math skills of our nation’s children and ultimately will weaken our ability to compete in the global economy,” said Sheryl Abshire, district administrative coordinator of technology for Calcasieu Parish Public Schools in Lake Charles, La., and CoSN chair. “The elimination of this funding–which allows all children access to technology and the internet, helps train teachers how to use and integrate technology into the curriculum, and provides funding and support for core-curricular content–runs completely counter to the goals and vision outlined by the president.”

“EETT is a critical program, as it supports all of the goals of No Child Left Behind,” added Melinda George, executive director of the State Educational Technology Director’s Association. George, who said EETT funding is used by more than 80 percent of school districts across the country to help close the achievement gap, train and recruit high-quality teachers, and improve accountability through the effective integration of data systems, called the administration’s decision to target EETT yet again “a direct strike against effectively preparing today’s students to live and work in the 21st century.”

To be sure, ED isn’t the only agency likely to see its budget shrink in 2007. All told, the massive, $2.7 trillion spending package calls for the elimination of 141 programs–for an estimated savings of $14.5 billion.

Bush’s desire to cut school technology funding is nothing new. The president also proposed eliminating the program in his 2006 budget request, only to see it salvaged by Congress during appropriations talks, albeit at a significantly reduced rate. In fact, the program–which provides funding for a wide range of technology initiatives, including access to online courses, the inclusion of new and emerging technology tools in classroom instruction, continual assessment of student progress through computer-based testing, and reporting of student achievement data, among other uses–has seen its funding slashed now in each of the last three years–from $696 million in 2004, to $498 million in 2005, to $275 million in 2006.

But given the emphasis placed on global competition during his State of the Union Address, educational technology advocates say the president’s decision to cut education funding–and ed-tech funding in particular–runs afoul of the promises the administration has made to prepare America’s students for success in a global economy.

“No matter if the world is flat or round, the United States must invest in the education of our children in order to produce global leaders,” said Anne Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association. “Schools are often the only place that our neediest children get access to technologically advanced learning. This is no time to cut funding for educational technology.”

“[The National Education Association] shares the desire of the president and Congress for the United States to remain competitive in the changing global economy, but that simply cannot happen without a strong commitment to 21st-century skills and funding for educational technology,” said NEA President Reg Weaver in a statement about the budget proposal.

Among the other 42 education programs on the chopping block for 2007 is the Teacher Quality Enhancement program, a $59.9 million effort to increase training and provide incentives for high-quality teachers. Officials say this program is unnecessary because it duplicates the efforts of other training programs, including Bush’s American Competitiveness Initiative. Also slated for elimination are Star Schools, a $14.9 million grant program that supports the ongoing development of distance-education projects intended to improve the delivery of curriculum; and Ready to Teach, a $10.9 million grant initiative intended to develop video-based instructional programming for schools.

The largest reductions come through the proposed elimination of two programs: the $1.2 billion Vocational Education State Grant initiative, intended to support state efforts to improve vocational education and job training; and the $346.5 million Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities State Grants program, intended to help states create safe and drug-free learning environments for students.

In defense of the cuts, Spellings and other administration officials said funding reductions in some programs were necessary to make room for the creation of new initiatives, including Bush’s competitiveness initiative and his high-school reform plan.

“Since the implementation of No Child Left Behind, we have seen that high standards, good teachers, and accountable schools help every student make great strides in performance,” Spellings said. “Yet as we survey the global landscape, it is clear that our international competitors have learned from our example. To ensure that America’s students become the groundbreaking researchers and leaders of tomorrow, we must transform the way we educate our children today.”

As news of Bush’s 2007 budget proposal began to sink in, many educators and education advocates were asking themselves if achieving that promise would be possible with $3.2 billion in budget cuts.


The White House

Office of Management and the Budget

U.S. Department of Education


Spellings: streamline education data

The St. Petersburg Times reports that U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings believes that states must do a better job of collecting data on student performance. She believes that this has to happen before experts can create programs to improve U.S. education. Both Spellings and Governor Jeb Bush attended the National Education Data Summit and urged educators to adopt a better data system to better measure students…


Schools monitor online journals

The Christian Science Monitor reports that a couple of incidents in the Chicago school system has prompted an examination of how issues of school safety versus free speech are handled through the lens of student blog postings. In one instance, teenagers used their Xanga web sites to post obscene and threatening comments about teachers. Another incident centered around a girl at a different high school posting inflammatory messages about gay marriage among other topics…


Users cut access to ‘metadata’

USA Today reports that the pitfalls of hidden “metadata” have long been known in computer-savvy circles, but new efforts are underway to keep a lid on metadata. Metadata is data about data. For example, a word-processing file keeps information on authorship, who saved the document, who saved it, and who edited it. But since these types of information do not appear visually on the document display or in a printed version, it is easy to forget about–sometimes causing embarrassing leaks.


Schools feel void with no ed-tech chief

With the nation’s focus expected to shift toward improving math and science education, spurring technological innovation, and preparing students for success in the new global economy, as outlined in President Bush’s State of the Union address on Jan. 31 (see story: Bush: Boost math and science), ed-tech advocates say the need for federal leadership on the integration of technology into instruction is more important now than ever.

Despite this need, they say, it’s been nearly six months since there has been a point person in the federal government’s Office of Educational Technology (OET) to turn to for guidance on issues related to school technology.

For its part, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) says it is actively looking for a new leader to fill the void left by OET’s former director, Susan Patrick, who resigned her post last August to assume control of the North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL).

“We are working to fill the position and expect to have an announcement in the near future,” wrote ED’s press secretary, Susan Aspey, in an eMail message to eSchool News. ED said it takes time to fill top-level positions and that widespread turnover throughout the department has made the task even more difficult.

Promises aside, leaders in the ed-tech community are growing restless. The longer the position goes unfilled, they say, the harder it is to convince lawmakers and other federal officials of the benefits of a technology-rich education. The issue appears even more urgent now, given the president’s newly outlined focus on math, science, and technology education.

Since Patrick’s departure last year, Congress has voted to cut federal spending on educational technology by millions of dollars, reducing funding for the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) block-grant program from $496 million in 2005 to $275 million this year.

Though the director of OET has no direct control over how much money Congress allocates in the federal budget, ed-tech leaders say having someone in the position might help reaffirm a point the administration readily acknowledges: that technology is essential to a high-quality, 21st-century education.

“I think that we need a strong voice at the table educating both officials within the administration and members of Congress about how instructional technology can make a difference in student learning,” said Keith Krueger, chief executive officer for the Consortium for School Networking, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group focused on promoting the effective integration of technology in the nation’s schools.

The longer the position stays open, Krueger said, the more difficult it is for groups such as CoSN and others to state their case that educational technology is critical to promoting effective, widespread reform in schools.

“What we need is someone who can help get the data that are being collected about the impact of educational technology up to the higher-ups in the department,” said Melinda George, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association.

Both George and Krueger said ED has informed them of its commitment to fill the position. In an eMail message to eSchool News, the department’s Aspey stressed that the effective integration of technology continues to play a critical role in the administration’s overall vision for schools.

“The educational technology office remains an important part of our continued efforts to improve data decision making at the department and throughout public education,” she explained.

Ed-tech advocates agree–a new head of OET is essential, they say.

“I think the position is extremely important,” said Patrick, who as director of NACOL now serves as an advocate for the continued adoption and acceptance of online learning in schools.

Because the director of OET reports directly to the Secretary of Education, Patrick said, the position is “uniquely positioned to advocate for systemic change.”

And she would know. Having spent close to two years in the role, Patrick says it remains one of the only positions within the department dedicated to evaluating agency programs–including federal grants–to ensure the effective integration and inclusion of technology.

As OET director, Patrick said, one of her most important duties involved reading and evaluating language in federal grant programs to ensure that technology and virtual schools enjoyed the same consideration and eligibility as traditional schools.

“Technology should be included in every single grant area,” she said, noting that OET was created through legislation to serve a coordinating role–providing policy guidance and advocacy about the effective use of technology to all areas of the department.

Beyond reviewing federal funding programs and advocacy, Patrick said, the director of OET also is responsible for promoting innovation, as well as commissioning studies and research intended to explore the benefits of effective technology integration in schools.

“We really need someone in this position who is capable of bringing a lot of different perspectives together,” Patrick said. “This idea of [educational technology] isn’t just a concept like it was 15 years ago. This is real, and this is happening.”

Given the rapid advancement of technology and its growing role in education, Patrick said, it’s critical that ED find someone to take her place–and the sooner the better.

But, as officials within the administration pointed out, finding high-quality candidates to fill top-level government positions isn’t easy, nor is it a process that can occur overnight.

“In Washington all jobs, whether in the administration, on the Hill, or wherever, are subject to steady turnover,” Aspey said. “It takes time to find, clear, and confirm candidates for top administration jobs.”

Having been through the process herself, Patrick concurred. “It takes a long time to go through the government hiring process,” she said.

This isn’t the first time OET directorship has weathered an extended vacancy. It took former Education Secretary Rod Paige nearly a year to hire Patrick’s predecessor, John Bailey, in 2002.

Bailey, who served as ed-tech director for the state of Pennsylvania before joining ED, came on board to replace Linda Roberts, who held the position she helped create during the late ’90s as a special advisor for the Clinton administration.

The transition went much more smoothly when Bailey left in 2004 to join President Bush’s reelection campaign. Rather than drag out the process, Paige promptly tapped Patrick–Bailey’s understudy and a veteran of the department–to succeed him. When no such action was taken following Patrick’s sudden exodus last summer, some began to question whether then-newly appointed Education Secretary Margaret Spellings might have other plans for the office.

As federal officials continued to push the notion that technology should be viewed as an integral part of every facet of education, and not as its own, standalone component, there was some speculation that Spellings might seek to fold OET’s responsibilities into some other branch of the department.

ED, however, is quick to dismiss those concerns as rumors and says it is committed to installing a new leader in the position.

OET isn’t the only office within the department with a “Help Wanted” sign currently hanging in its window.

ED currently is searching for candidates to fill six top-level department positions, including Under Secretary, Assistant Secretary for Management, Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education, General Counsel, Chief Financial Officer, and Commissioner of Rehabilitative Services Administration.

Unlike OET, however, each of these positions requires both presidential appointment and Senate approval. Part of what made Patrick’s appointment so easy for Paige in 2004 was that ED didn’t have to go through the full confirmation process to bring her on board. Patrick already had gone through that process when she joined ED to serve as an executive under Bailey.

Given the high visibility and high-pressure nature of many of these types of positions, Aspey said, turnover at this level of government is not uncommon.

“There is natural turnover in these jobs as people move on to other opportunities,” she explained in her eMail message.


U.S. Department of Education

North American Council for Online Learning

Consortium for School Networking

State Educational Technology Directors Association


AOL equips school with new computer lab

The Lansing State Journal reports that Tom Arnold and representatives from America Online appeared at the Hutchins Middle School in Detroit during an assembly to announce a donation of $80,000 in computer equipment…


Kids learn to drive on the web

The Kansas City Star reports that Drivers Ed Direct launched last summer and did away with photocopied tests, cheesy videos and lectures. In fact, it did away with the classroom altogether. Through DriversEdDirect.com, instruction is taken out of the classroom and taken into an animated, interactive realm…


Evolution measures splits Utah legislators

The New York Times reports that in Utah, Senate Bill 96 is deeply dividing lawmakers. The bill would require a disclaimer when introducing lessons on evolution. In a state where 90 percent of the elected officials are members of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it was assumed that such a measure would not receive much opposition. The fact that the bill’s fate is still in question is showing that assumption to be wrong… (Note: This site requires free registration)


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