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Ed-tech stakeholders protest budget cuts

Successful ed-tech programs might dwindle if EETT funding disappears, stakeholders fear.

Educational technology stakeholders are speaking out against federal efforts to eliminate the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program by releasing state profiles and information showing how important the program is for ed-tech implementation.

On April 13, the National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training (NCTET) released “Profiles in Innovation: How the Enhancing Education Through Technology Program is Improving Teaching and Learning in America’s Schools.” The profiles of 10 schools illustrate how instrumental EETT funds have been in helping to create successful educational technology programs.

“For kids in America today, technology isn’t something separate from their day-to-day lives—it is their day-to-day lives,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who delivered remarks at the release of the NCTET report. “They wake up, they reach for their smart phone, and they start tweeting. They text their friends while they walk to school. They update their Facebook status on the bus.”

Murray said educational technology is essential to improving students’ learning experiences in several ways:

  • Technology lets educators and students customize and personalize learning.
  • Ed tech gives teachers, principals, and policy makers important data and information they need to know what’s working and what must be improved.
  • Ed tech has a powerful way of engaging students in the classroom.

“Twenty-first century jobs are going to require workers with 21st-century skills—and we need to make sure our students not only understand how technology connects to their future careers,  but that they are also leaving our schools and entering the workforce better at making that connection than students anywhere else in the world,” Murray said. “So that’s the first reason well-integrated technology education is so critical in our schools.”

She highlighted an EETT success story from her home state of Washington. The Yakima Public School District serves roughly 14,500 students, more than 80 percent of whom are eligible for free and reduced lunches, and 25 percent are English language learners.

Within the district, Wilson Middle School special-education teacher Kathy Schmidt used EETT funds to purchase and install a computer system and software that let her tailor her classroom instruction to meet her students’ varying needs more effectively.

After installing that computer program and in just one instructional year, the number of Schmidt’s students who passed a statewide assessment reportedly increased from 8 percent to 59 percent.

The district’s technology coordinator, Dan Matthews, discovered that nearly half of its classrooms weren’t integrating available technology as effectively as possible, Murray said. Using a $200,000 EETT grant, Matthews established the Classroom Connect program, which works with teachers to make sure they understand how to best use technology in their instruction. Last year, more than 200 teachers in 11 of the district’s lowest-income schools participated in the program.

“Unfortunately, as you may know, there are some people who believe we should eliminate this important program,” Murray said, referencing the recent FY11 budget agreement that eliminates EETT funding.

“I am going to keep fighting for it, though—because I know it works. And if we lose this funding stream, I am concerned we risk backtracking on the gains these programs have helped our schools make.”

Recently, Murray co-sponsored the ATTAIN Act, which reauthorizes, updates, and improves the EETT program. Murray said she will continue to fight for the program’s success.

Other EETT success stories

A statewide digital content repository in Iowa received a $3.2 million EETT grant that will help it push state-aligned digital core content to all of Iowa’s schools, offer extensive professional development, and also offer a standardized course credit recovery system.

Dominic Giegerich, principal of CAM High School in Anita, Iowa, is hoping that the repository will make more digital resources available to his school’s 135 students, all of whom have laptops.

Giegerich is a board member of the statewide district consortium that received $2.75 million of the EETT stimulus funds to create the repository, while a consortium from Des Moines received the remaining funds and is working on a parallel project.

The repository used EETT funds to purchase digital materials initially in core curricular areas such as algebra, physical science, and English. In the NCTET profile, Giegerich noted that many of his teachers might use the digital resources in their blended virtual and classroom instruction, with the hope that students might be able to access those same resources on their laptops.

But with EETT funds eliminated for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year, it’s uncertain if the statewide repository will continue to expand.

The Iowa State Board of Education is making online learning a priority, and the Iowa legislature passed legislation permitting districts to use textbook funds to buy digital content and computing devices to deliver that content, but steady federal funding is needed to support the statewide repository, its organizers say.

Rural educators in Nevada are more effectively integrating technology into their instruction with a $4 million EETT grant.

The funds helped the Pathway to Nevada’s Future project, called the Pathway project, equip Nevada classrooms with laptops and mobile handheld devices. It also designed and launched a two-year online professional development course for state teachers and administrators.

Thirty percent of Nevada’s students live in rural or remote areas, and the Pathway project’s online professional development program has helped rural educators avoid traveling long distances to attend in-person professional development workshops.

During the program’s first year, participating educators learn about resources and technologies that are appropriate for different classroom settings, along with learning different ways to use those tools.

Now in its second year, the program is focusing on encouraging teachers to collaborate online to create and implement lesson plans that let students work together on projects. It also includes a section on how to assess students’ progress in meeting learning objectives.

The program’s first class of educators included 180 teachers and administrators from all of the state’s 17 school districts.

The report notes that University of Nevada, Las Vegas professors Neal Strudler and P.G. Schrader evaluated the program’s first year and found that the project has had a positive impact on teachers’ technology integration and that teachers have shown significant improvements.

“Now I look at iPods and the use of Twitter in educational terms. Before I started this project, I had no clue as to the educational possibilities of such things,” said Nevada teacher Kathy Buckmaster in the NCTET report. “Teachers have to be willing to learn how this technology can be integrated if we ever expect to move into a true 21st-century learning environment.”

State technology initiatives

Other advocacy groups also are demonstrating EETT’s importance in schools and districts across the nation.

On March 31, the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) released the 2011 Individual State Profile Reports, which describe highlights of each state’s EETT grant program. In-depth profiles were released in early April and illustrate state technology directors’ strategies in identifying and meeting program goals, scaling up innovations, and coordinating ed-tech funding.

For instance, the Southeast Arkansas Education Service Cooperative used a $233,541 EETT grant to create Tech Camp for Kids, which offered an innovative technology learning environment for teachers and students using video production tools to produce real-world learning scenarios products.

A team of teachers and high school students received video equipment and production training, and they conducted a technology camp for 30 students in their local district. The camp emphasized video production technology and project-based learning.

Students exhibited significant gains in technology skills, and professional development involved creative camera techniques, lighting and sound, and video editing, all aligned with the International Society for Technology in Education’s National Educational Technology Standards (NETS).

And with a $540,000 EETT grant, the Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative (VTVLC), which already offers high school courses online in its first year, will expand into middle school curriculum. Schools partner with VTVLC and identify a teacher to facilitate online learning for the program across the state. Teachers are trained to facilitate online courses, and in return, their schools receive seats in VTVLC for their students.

VTVLC also offers summer credit recovery courses and online summer school.

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