Editorial: Frenemy of the people

As we reported in March, President Obama has requested $90 million in his 2012 budget for the creation of a new ed-tech agency that would “support research on breakthrough technologies to enhance learning.” The agency’s goal would be to transform educational technology just as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has transformed military technology.

While ed-tech advocates have expressed support for this proposal, they are deeply disappointed with the administration’s plan to eliminate the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program. The Consortium for School Networking, the International Society for Technology Education, the Software & Information Industry Association, and the State Educational Technology Directors Association say this plan would take away the only federal program dedicated to investing in technology and training for K-12 educators.

“Elimination of the program … is the surest way to devalue the billions of dollars invested over the last two years on improving broadband access to K-12 schools and directly undercuts ongoing state and federal efforts to deploy education data systems, implement new college and career-ready standards and assessments, and address the well-documented STEM crisis. Our educators and students deserve better, and we urge Congress to reverse course and fully fund the EETT program,” the groups said in a March 8 statement.

Here’s another example of the seemingly schizophrenic nature of Obama administration policy. As part of its efforts to boost college attainment, the administration has turned to online education to help meet this goal; in January, officials announced a $2 billion federal grant program encouraging community colleges to create open online courseware that can be used by other institutions free of charge. Yet, a new federal rule scheduled to take effect July 1 could have a “major chilling effect” on online instruction, its critics say.

According to the rule, colleges that offer online instruction would have to get approval from every state in which they operate, or those online courses could be shut down. The requirement has drawn the ire of at least 60 higher-education organizations, which sent a letter to Sec. Duncan on March 2 objecting to the rule.

Instead of paying fees to meet the legal requirements necessary to operate in multiple states, many institutions might stop offering online courses in those states—forcing students to find other ways to finish their education. For those schools that pay for state-by-state certification, the costs associated with compliance could lead to huge tuition increases, critics fear.

As educators and administrators band together in the face of opposition, it isn’t just vocal school reformers they need to worry about … but policies that undermine the administration’s own stated objectives as well.

Other recent columns by Editor Dennis Pierce:

This ‘Superman‘ doesn’t fly

Putting our ideas of assessment to the test

Public school employees under attack

Dennis Pierce

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