Stakeholders fight for ed-tech funds

Education leaders worry that programs like Alabama's ACCESS Distance Learning will struggle without federal funding from EETT.
Education leaders worry that programs like Alabama's ACCESS Distance Learning will struggle without federal funding from EETT.

Computer-based testing, online high school courses, instructional data systems, and a dropout reengagement program that uses a blended model of instruction are just some of the uses of federal education technology funding that are occurring in states, a group of state leaders told Congress in lobbying for further ed-tech support.

Education leaders gathered on Capitol Hill May 17 to share stories about successful federally funded programs in an effort to urge lawmakers to continue to fund the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program in FY2011.

President Obama’s budget proposal would fold EETT—the largest single source of federal funding for school technology equipment, support, and professional development—into a new competitive grant program that aims to promote effective teaching and learning by making technology an integral part of education. But many advocates of education technology are wary of this approach.

“We’re here to discuss the success of EETT,” said Douglas Levin, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA). “We want to see it continued and fully funded with the reauthorization of [the Elementary and Secondary Education Act].”

SETDA’s May 17 briefing on Capitol Hill was the latest in a series of efforts by ed-tech advocates to protest changes to EETT in the president’s 2011 budget proposal. SETDA was one of nearly 70 state and national education groups and technology companies that signed on to letters to federal lawmakers protesting the changes earlier this year.

Levin also highlighted trends from the recently released 2010 SETDA National Educational Technology Trends Report, “Innovation through State Leadership.” The report examines the trends from investments made in EETT.

These trends include:

  • Scaling up ed-tech success stories;
  • Enhancing teacher effectiveness through professional development;
  • Using data to inform learning, teaching, and leadership;
  • Increasing academic achievement; and
  • Driving innovation and new educational models.

A panel of state leaders shared examples of how some of the trends identified by SETDA can be found in their schools.

Lan Neugent, assistant superintendent for technology, career, and adult education at the Virginia Department of Education, said EETT funds have helped Virginia bolster its statewide online testing program.

“We’re delivering 2 million tests per year to all of the high schools, 98 percent of middle schools, and we’re moving into elementary schools,” he said.

Melinda Maddox, technology director for the Alabama Department of Education, said EETT has enabled her state to create ACCESS Distance Learning, which offers online courses to high school students.

“We need to think how we can bring something like this to all the states, and EETT helps us to do that,” she said.

The Michigan Department of Education used federal funds to expand existing regional data systems to about 98 percent of its public school districts and 45 percent of its pubic school academies (charter schools), said Bruce Umpstead, the state’s director of education technology and data coordination.

Michigan also used EETT funds to start a dropout reengagement initiative, Umpstead said, that uses a mix of online and face-to-face learning to help students who have dropped out for one reason or another meet their graduation requirements.

SETDA notes that the federal EETT program aims to use technology to improve academic achievement, helps students cross the digital divide, and integrates technology into teacher training and curriculum development, which serves to strengthen research-based instruction.

The U.S. Department of Education reserves some EETT funding for national activities, such as national research and evaluation and the development of the National Education Technology Plan.

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