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By Elizabeth B. Guerard, Associate Editor
eSchool News
February 19, 2001
CoSN, ISTE urge Washington to Stay the Course on Ed Tech
Two leading educational technology advocacy groups have sent a joint position paper to President Bush’s staff and to members of Congress, urging continued federal leadership on key ed-tech issues.

The document is a response to Bush’s education plan, which calls for a consolidation of technology funding into a single block-grant program that would be administered state by state.

The 14-page "Preparing the Classroom for the 21st Century: An Agenda for Federal Involvement in Educational Technology" was written by Leslie Harris & Associates, the legislative representative for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).

"We will use this as a ‘talking points’ document," said Lee Jee Hang Lee, the firm’s senior legislative associate. "We wanted to map out how we feel about education technology, and we wanted to have a new document to provide guidance to the 107th Congress."

According to Lee, the policy paper has been posted to both groups’ web sites and has been sent to key members of Congress, particularly to education-related committee members. It also was directed to the Department of Education and to President Bush’s domestic policy staff.

The paper references many of the findings of the Congressional Web-based Education Commission, a bipartisan commission charged by the Clinton administration with researching and reporting on the internet’s potential to transform learning. In January, the commission released a report titled "The Power of the Internet for Learning: Moving from Promise to Practice."

"ISTE and CoSN both contributed testimony to that commission, and they felt the commission had some great recommendations," said Lee.

The ISTE and CoSN document praises federal education technology initiatives that have flourished over the past several years.

"Through support for programs embodied in Title III of [the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA] and the eRate, among others, the federal government has spurred the development of innovative learning strategies and connected thousands of schools to the internet," the report points out.

But, without sustained federal leadership in these areas, the Bush plan risks undermining the progress schools have made already, the groups say.

"ISTE and CoSN stand ready to work with Congress and the [Bush] administration to identify where consolidation and additional flexibility may be appropriate," according to the position paper. "But we believe that the gains that have been achieved thus far will be imperiled if the federal government simply cedes its leadership role in this area."

Bush’s plan, called "No Child Left Behind," states his preference for block grants, in which states are given chunks of federal money and left to determine which state programs that money will be allotted to, and in what proportions.

"We realize that things are going to be consolidated under Title III grants [if Bush gets his way], but we used this paper to talk about the three primary areas where we feel consolidation is not a good idea," said Lee.

First, consolidation could hurt the research and development portion of the national education technology plan, Lee said.

"There is just no way to efficiently disseminate best practices for each of the 50 states," he said. "The federal government has to have a role in that area."

Second, said Lee, ISTE and CoSN do not believe in consolidation of funds for preservice training for teachers, and they urge the continuation of the Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology (PT3) program as it exists now.

PT3 is slated to disburse $125 million in grants this year to consortia of teachers’ colleges, community organizations, and local school districts to ensure that future generations of classsroom teachers have the skills needed to use technology effectively in their lessons. It is one of nine Title III programs that would be consolidated into block grants under Bush’s plan.

Finally, Lee said, "We hope the eRate will be left out of any block grant program. We fully support the continuation of the eRate as a separate fund."

Keith Krueger, executive director of CoSN, said he thinks this is the most important of the groups’ recommendations.

"Bottom line, we want to make sure that the eRate is maintained as a separate activity," he said. "If the Bush administration chooses to move to block grants, we don’t want to lose the momentum [the eRate has gained] so far."

Bush’s plan to shift eRate funds into a single block grant that also encompasses Department of Education funding has sharply divided educators. Many school leaders have said they would welcome the reduction in paperwork such a solution promises, while others fear it would leave the eRate—which is now written into law—vulnerable to the vagaries of the annual appropriations process in Congress.

Most observers agree it might be too early to tell exactly what changes will take place under the Bush administration. But ISTE and CoSN hope to use their position paper to steer discussion on these issues.

"We’re having initial discussion with the White House now, but we’ve been working with the House and the Senate to provide them with input on legislation they are crafting," Lee said. "Hopefully, the Senate and Congress will look at this document as a useful source of information. We want to move the discussion along about education technology."

Krueger’s best advice to the new administration? "I’d say, listen to the folks who are really making ed-tech work. Let’s not lose the progress we’ve made so far, and let’s leverage it to continue to make progress in the future."


Links relative to this story:

Consortium for School Networking

International Society for Technology in Education

Leslie Harris & Associates

"No Child Left Behind" (Bush education plan)

RECOMMENDATIONS OF ISTE AND CoSN

The "Preparing the Classroom for the 21st Century" policy paper urges lawmakers to consider nine main points when examining legislation that could affect current educational technology programs:

1. Maintain an emphasis on equity. According to the policy paper, "The principal goal of federal education policy is to ensure equity. Despite significant gains in technology capacity and connectivity, attributable in large part to federal programs, schools serving poor children continuously lag behind in understanding how to effectively integrate technology into curricula."

2. Keep a separate technology title in ESEA. "Federal leadership has been crucial to maximizing investments in education technology at all levels. A separate technology title will [ensure] an emphasis on innovation and place a national focus on bringing education technology to schools. It will also help [ensure] that the consolidation process does not diminish federal dollars committed to ed-tech."

3. Sharpen the focus on professional development. "Both recently released reports of the Web-based Education Commission and the Department of Education recommend bold action to improve teacher preparation, particularly in the area of technology use and integration," the groups say. They recommend that 30 percent of all funds distributed to states and local districts, whether through existing programs or block grants, should be committed to professional development for staff at all levels. "In turn, the federal government should examine emerging models and disseminate information nationally to ensure a focus on integrating technology into the curriculum," they add. They also recommend that federal policy makers "create incentives in ESEA that encourage states to adopt educational technology standards for all education professionals" and urge continued support of the Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology program.

4. Include rigorous evaluation in all federal ed-tech programs. But standardized testing may not be enough, say ISTE and CoSN. "Periodic standardized testing identifies where and which schools are improving, but without formative evaluation during the life of the program, it is difficult to say why a school has improved or, in the case of ed-tech, whether or how it has made a difference in the classroom."

5. Invest in education technology as an assessment tool. According to the policy paper, ISTE and CoSN believe that "the federal government should develop and disseminate quality assessment tools and strategies and provide assessment of education on a national scale. New assessment indicators need to be developed to capture the effects of students’ access to new tools."

6. Expand the ed-tech research agenda. "The federal government must develop and pursue a national research agenda that includes nonvendor-specific research into cognition and learning sciences, national assessment strategies and tools, and the identification of best practices in the area of ed-tech."

7. Create an ed-tech clearinghouse. ISTE and CoSN both believe that a national clearinghouse for best practices in educational technology will help maximize the federal government’s investment in education reform "by identifying the processes that have successfully improved student achievement."

8. Preserve and expand the federal leadership role. According to the policy paper, the National Activities section of the ESEA’s Tile III "gives the secretary of education broad discretion to nurture the growth of innovation in education technology and build leadership at all levels." ISTE and CoSN believe that "this federal leadership role is crucial if there is to be a focused and coherent strategy in this area." The paper recommends that the secretary of education be given the "discretion to pursue programs of national significance" and that the Department of Education’s Office of Technology be retained.

9. Maintain the eRate program. According to ISTE and CoSN, "The work of the eRate is far from over." Citing increased demand for Year 3 discounts, the paper says, "Calls for the eRate to be moved to the Department of Education and folded into block grants are misguided. Not only is the legal authority for such action unresolved (since it is a universal service program paid for by telecommunications carriers), but ending the program and placing it in the annual appropriations process would jeopardize the security of its funding and undermine the careful technology planning of thousands of eRate participants, ultimately setting back efforts to bring powerful new learning tools to these education institutions nationwide." Rather than dismantle the eRate, ISTE and CoSN urge the FCC to streamline the application process.