Significant cuts in federal educational technology funding have forced states and school systems across the nation to scale back and prioritize their ed-tech initiatives, according to the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA). In adapting to these cuts and making hard choices, states largely have focused their efforts on professional development and leadership to sustain school IT programs.
These observations come from SETDA’s 2008 National Trends Report, an annual survey of all 50 states and the District of Columbia to gauge the impact of the federal Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program on state and school district technology programs.
The 2008 report looks at the impact of funding from Round 5 of EETT, which was disbursed in fiscal year 2006. That year, total EETT funding that reached the states was slashed to $253 million, down from $461 million in the prior year.
“Research has shown that educational technology programs help ensure that all schools have highly qualified teachers and provide students with the academic resources necessary to compete in a global economy,” said Mary Ann Wolf, executive director of SETDA. “The 40-percent slash in EETT funds in Round 5 forced states to eliminate highly effective programs or to scale back successful programs.”
Despite these cuts, states and school systems are determined to give their students the technology skills necessary to compete in an increasingly technology-focused world, SETDA said. And to maximize the return on their investment, states are focusing heavily on leadership and professional development initiatives.
That’s one of several major trends that have arisen from EETT funding, as identified in this year’s report. Others include an emphasis on funding curriculum-based technology projects in subjects such as math, literacy, and science; the building of capacity for districts to make data-driven decisions about student instruction; and the scaling up of projects that have been proven to work on a local level.
“From professional development models in inner-city New York, to technology integration programs in rural North Dakota, to comprehensive school reform in North Carolina, educational technology programs and models raise student achievement. We know what models and programs work, and EETT is one fundamental component to transforming more schools and ensuring our students are prepared for the 21st-century global economy,” Wolf said.
With funds severely cut from previous years, states have been forced to rethink their priorities for awarding EETT grants to school systems. The answer for many states was to provide a wide range of high-quality professional development experiences for K-12 educators.
Professional development that supports EETT projects is highly diversified, and many states said they have turned to virtual learning, just-in-time training, coaching and mentoring, professional learning communities, and hybrid models to ensure that educators receive high-quality experiences.
States also reported varying topics for the professional development programs their EETT grants supported, including intensive programs in middle-school math, Web 2.0 applications, use of public television, modeling and designing web-based courses, increasing motivation in math and science classes, and digital storytelling.
As EETT funds decreased, many states relied on consortia and local eligible partnerships to extend the depth and breadth of their professional development offerings.
For instance, seven rural school districts in south-central Wisconsin, including the Wisconsin School for the Deaf, formed a school improvement consortium called Integrating State Standards, Achievement, and Curriculum (ISSAC). ISSAC was created in 2003 to improve professional practices and increase student achievement in reading, writing, and math through the integration of technology in the classroom.
In fiscal year 2006, ISSAC used state EETT funds to implement a well-planned, ongoing, systemic train-the-trainer model of professional development to improve classroom practice and student work. The program linked the schools’ standards-based reading and math curriculum to best practices in using instructional technology. Through a series of five professional learning experiences, educators underwent both face-to-face and online professional development, in which they developed high-quality instructional units that incorporated student use of technologies, creative thinking, and higher-order problem solving.
Professional networking and collaboration across the regional consortium fostered a high degree of engagement among participating educators, which resulted in higher-level learning activities for all students. Teachers participating in the project showed significant growth in their level of preparedness to implement Wisconsin’s Model Academic Standards for Information and Technology Literacy in their classrooms. Teacher self-assessments also revealed significant individual growth in all areas. The specific training teachers received was shown to have made a significant positive impact on their knowledge and skill in using technology in instructional settings.
State technology directors reported that, despite cuts, they were able to meet various goals with the help of EETT funding. One of those goals was to integrate technology resources and systems with teacher training and curriculum development, to establish research-based instructional methods.
Some state technology directors said they noticed several indicators of progress toward that goal, including an increased proficiency in technology among teachers and a greater capacity to use technology effectively in teaching and learning; updated district technology plans; progress in integrating technology into the curriculum; more informed, data-driven decision making; and high-quality, differentiated professional development for teachers and administrators.
Twenty-one states reported that they do not have any state funding targeted explicitly for educational technology. In those 21 states, federal EETT grants were the primary source of ed-tech funding. Thus, local education agencies in those states have been particularly hard hit by the cuts.
The results from Round 5 have been limited by the reduction in EETT funding in FY06. While the findings indicate that states are implementing the federal EETT program as prescribed by law, the cuts have caused significant reductions in the scope of these initiatives.
“For the first few years of the EETT program, funding was stabilized at approximately $600 million annually (for all 50 states and the District of Columbia). However, beginning in FY05, that level was reduced significantly by Congress, resulting in a 60-percent reduction from FY04 to FY06. Over the last two years, funding for EETT was severely reduced, first by a 27-percent cut in FY05 and another 45-percent cut in FY06. The Round 5 (FY06) federal allocation of $253.3 million represents an acute disruption in states’ plans for advancing [EETT’s] goals,” the report says.
Another trend the report uncovered is that states are facilitating high-quality research to meet the need for reliable and valid studies with causal links between the use of technology and student learning outcomes. Although the number of studies is limited–owing, in part, to the lack of EETT funds allocated for research–the report says these study findings generally are positive.
“The studies of EETT projects demonstrate that, with a well-designed educational technology intervention and high fidelity of implementation, educators can achieve significant gains in comparison to non-technology control groups,” the SEDTA report says.
In North Carolina, a three-year study found that students enrolled in the state’s IMPACT model for infusing technology into teaching and learning made significantly larger gains in mathematics and reading than did students in matched comparison groups.
A study in Oregon that compared writing samples from students using electronic composition to those using handwritten composition showed significantly higher quality in the electronically produced samples.
A Pennsylvania study compared the achievement levels of students within the School District of Philadelphia enrolled in schools using an Instructional Management System in comparison to a matched set of students in schools not yet using the IMS. Results showed significantly steeper learning trajectories over a three-year period in the treatment group in comparison with the control group in math and reading, according to SETDA.
And in Utah, the report says, the eMINTS program for integrating technology into instruction in grades 4-6 resulted in significantly increased student scores in mathematics, literacy, and science in comparison with non-eMINTS schools.
In most cases, survey data were from state technology directors, SETDA said.