States tackle global competitiveness of students

As eSchool News reported on page 10, President Bush cited the competitiveness of American students as a critical challenge in his 2007 State of the Union address. It’s a challenge that also has resonated with governors and other high-ranking state officials from coast to coast.

From increasing the rigor of the high school curriculum, to focusing more attention on math, science, and technology instruction, many U.S. governors this year have proposed new education programs that aim to raise high school graduation rates and better prepare students for success in the 21st century. And many of these proposals, in turn, rely on the use of educational technology.

Laptops and individual learning plans

In Arizona, for instance, students in seven high schools would be given laptop computers under a $5 million pilot project floated Jan. 24 by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne. The idea is that teachers “can better prepare students for the digital economy in a context where every student has his or her own laptop,” Horne said in addressing state lawmakers.

Horne said he wanted to build on the success of Empire High School in Arizona’s Vail School District (see story: Story.cfm?ArticleID=5828) but was proposing only a limited pilot program for now “to avoid the pitfalls of failures experienced by other states.”

The program’s costs would be split between the state and participating schools, Horne said. He added: “It will be an important investment in keeping Arizona on the cutting edge of technology in education, and doing so carefully and successfully.”

Horne’s annual address also requested a $400,000 appropriation for a state web-based system for all students in grades 7-12 to have individualized learning plans.

The purpose of the plans is to ensure that every student gets one-on-one advice from educators in identifying a career path. Currently, some students rarely meet with guidance counselors, who are overwhelmed with demand. Arizona reportedly averages one counselor for every 783 students, one of the highest ratios in the country.

The personal learning plans would require teachers to assume the role of academic guidance counselor, checking students’ academic progress and helping them focus on a realistic career path. The plans would be updated each year.

Last fall, eSchool News reported that Kentucky had launched a similar web-based program of its own to help students map out their academic careers (see story:

Model ed-tech program could be expanded

In Missouri, Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican, has proposed spending an extra $4 million to get students and teachers focused on math and science.

Blunt is proposing $2.9 million to expand the eMINTS (Enhancing Missouri’s Instructional Networked Teaching Strategies) program to 100 additional classrooms across the state. The program incorporates technology into class work and is driven more by students’ inquiries than by textbooks and teacher lectures (see story:

Already, more than 500 schools in about 230 districts have been using the program after receiving federal funds, but this would be the first state revenue directed to it, if the Legislature agrees.

Blunt also wants to spend $1 million on after-school programs focused on math, science, and health, and $250,000 to cover up to half of students’ costs to take Advanced Placement (AP) tests in math and science, which can earn them college credit.

Blunt’s proposals follow a summit and special committee he organized to search for ways to improve math and science education and careers. The panel’s key recommendations included improving technology in the classroom and ensuring that teachers know how to make it part of their lessons.

Rigor, relevance, and results

In Minnesota, which enjoys a $2.2 billion budget surplus this year, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty has recommended a 9.3-percent boost in spending that includes $1.4 billion in additional funding for education. Pawlenty’s plans include incentives for schools to offer more demanding courses and money to improve infrastructure and classroom technology at state colleges and universities.

Portions of the new money are tied to performance goals, which Pawlenty said reflected the demand by taxpayers that government dollars get results.

Pawlenty recommends adding 2 percent onto the basic per-pupil education formula for all schools. Schools that get three or more stars on their state report cards–which are based largely on student test results–would qualify for an additional 2-percent increase each year, though they couldn’t use this extra money to fund permanent salary increases.

High schools that adopt stronger college-level course requirements for their students could tap into another $75 million bonus pot, part of Pawlenty’s push for reforms that he calls the new 3 Rs–rigor, relevance, and results. In addition, college-bound students from families that earn less than $100,000 could earn free university tuition if they take rigorous college-prep courses while still in high school, through a new $92 million scholarship fund.

Pawlenty’s plans also call for $67 million in new funding for advances in higher-education infrastructure and classroom technology.

2010 Education

South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican, updated stakeholders on the status of his “2010 Education” initiative during his State of the State address on Jan. 9. The program has three components: Starting Strong (early childhood education), Finishing Strong (preparing students for college and success in the 21st-century workforce), and Staying Strong (school funding and teacher quality).

Finishing Strong aims to create more rigorous graduation requirements, increase the state’s graduation rate, and increase participation in AP classes. It also includes a statewide laptop plan and the creation of a virtual high school.

“We are moving forward with the South Dakota Classroom Connections laptop project,” Rounds said. “Twenty school districts were selected as pilot sites. Teachers received their laptops and intensive training last summer. There are 5,000 new laptops in the schools this year, and our goal is to double that number to 10,000 laptops next school year.”

He added: “The results have already been excellent. Teachers have reported that students are more motivated in their studies, spend more time doing their homework, and have access to more information than ever before. Teachers also report a dramatic increase in the amount of communication [among] teachers, parents, and students.”

Rounds also said the state is working to create the South Dakota Virtual High School. The web site is now being tested, he said: “We have four providers in our state who are preparing 75 courses for the fall of 2007. A full high school curriculum should be available [online] by the fall of 2008.”

Facing 21st-century problems

In Washington, Gov. Christine Gregiore, a Democrat, also cited the need to prepare kids for what she called “the globally competitive job market of the 21st century.”

“That’s why my No. 1 priority this session is education,” she said. “There is no better example of where we have held on to a 20th-century system while we face 21st-century problems.”

Most of Gregoire’s proposals focused on strengthening math, science, and technology education.

“This nation met the challenge of President Kennedy in the 1960s to be the first to put a man on the moon. Our modern-day moon challenge is to meet the math and science crisis facing our state and nation,” she said. “Three-quarters of Americans believe that if our next generation fails to improve skills in math, science, and engineering, it risks becoming the first generation of Americans who are worse off economically than their parents.”

Gregoire proposed reducing math and science class sizes to no more than 25 students for each teacher; offering additional training and coaching for math and science teachers; recruiting 750 new math and science teachers by offering college scholarships, loan forgiveness, and luring private-sector professionals into education; and standardizing the math and science curricula across the state, so students moving from one district to another learn the same material. She also cited the need for more students to study computer science and other “high-demand” subjects.

“A survey of Washington businesses shows that we are not keeping pace with employer needs–especially in fields like computer science, engineering, and construction,” she said. “We’re importing workers for good-paying jobs. Don’t you think our sons and daughters should get a shot at those jobs?”

Classrooms for the future

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a Democrat, has announced a $20 million “classroom for the future” program. Designed to outfit the state’s 611 high schools with state-of-the-art technology, the program also is expected to include a statewide network of teacher mentors and $6 million for professional development to help educators integrate the new technology into classrooms.

Technology supplier CDW-G will be a primary provider of equipment. According to the company, Pennsylvania’s Classrooms for the Future solution includes Lenovo ThinkPad notebooks; Futurekids professional development; Inspiration Software concept-mapping software; Adobe Creative Suite; Promethean and Polyvision interactive whiteboards; D-Link access points; HP multimedia printers and digital cameras; Canon video cameras; Bretford mobile laptop carts; Epson projectors; and Logitech webcams and speakers.

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