While many school stakeholders say there’s a lot to like in the new National Education Technology Plan (NETP), such as its emphasis on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and using open educational resources to improve instruction, others are concerned about what they see as a fundamental conflict between the plan’s call for innovation on the one hand and the Obama administration’s continued focus on testing and accountability on the other.
In their blueprint for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have called for higher standards, particularly in the core academic subjects of reading and math, and better use of data to make sure students are meeting these more rigorous standards.
The new NETP, released last month, refers to these broader administration goals—but it also calls on school leaders to reinvent teaching and learning, with a focus on personalizing instruction and infusing 21st-century skills into the curriculum.
Now, some educators are wondering whether it’s possible to achieve the goals outlined in the NETP while simultaneously meeting the tougher ESEA requirements the administration is proposing—and all at a time when school budgets continue to decline.
“In many places, the report discusses critical thinking, complex problem solving, collaboration, and multimedia communication (a.k.a. 21st-century competencies),” wrote Bill MacKenty, an instructional designer at the Hunter College Campus Schools in New York City. “We read about goals of creating inquisitive, creative, resourceful thinkers, informed citizens, effective problem [solvers], groundbreaking pioneers, and visionary leaders. But the report also clearly articulates the importance of data-based instruction and data-based decisions. How does this report imagine education in the context of quantitative data and qualitative experience?”
He continued: “The report says data, data, data. I get it. But the report also says schools can’t be ‘information factories.’ Where do those ends meet?”
MacKenty is one of dozens of educators who’ve left comments for the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on the NETP web site. He’s not alone in seeing a potential conflict between the plan’s call for innovation and the administration’s overall school-reform blueprint.
A commenter identified only as “Shane” noted that “using technology and integrating it into instructional practices will not prepare students for the 21st century without other major changes to the system of education.”
He added: “The focus of the federal and state governments on high-stakes testing is in direct contradiction to creating an environment where humans learn best. Furthermore, it perpetuates the idea that all students should be the same. Students are not the same. People are not the same. … Stop attaching funding to only standardized test scores. Then, perhaps schools could begin moving towards creating an environment where 21st-century skills can develop.”
ED is seeking feedback on the plan as officials look to implement its recommendations. But the comments of MacKenty and others illustrate the many challenges the department will face in bringing its ed-tech plan to fruition.
Another is funding.