Enhancing Achievement with Educational Technology
THE CALL TO ACTION
In Massachusetts and nationally, we have reached a critical point in the use of technology in our schools. The basic infrastructure, lacking less than a decade ago, is now in place in many schools. Computers are widely (though not universally) available, as are software and Web resources that effectively support teaching and learning.
The issue now is how we can best use educational technology to improve achievement of all students and to transform schools and the teaching profession to meet the needs of students in and for the 21st century. This includes continued commitment, by local districts and the Commonwealth, of adequate resources to sustain and extend the availability and effectiveness of the technology itself; but it depends as much (or more) on how those resources are used, and how well teachers are prepared to take advantage of that technology.
As a result, BEST will maintain its advocacy for improved student achievement through professional development for teachers, an enhanced state regulatory framework for schools and sufficient funding for educational technology.
WHAT WE HAVE ACHIEVED
In 1994 the greatest barrier to the effective use of technology in education was lack of infrastructure. BEST was created to educate the public and policy makers about the importance of providing state funds for technology infrastructure in schools. Through the $86 million Education Technology Bond Bill, BESTs first successful initiative, the Commonwealth provided leadership and incentives for local school districts to improve their technology.
Since then, BEST has worked with the Legislature and succeeding administrations to enact legislation that provided more that $150 million in state appropriations. With that state leadership, local school districts in Massachusetts leveraged a portion of this amount into approximately $200 million in educational technology purchases, and are spending approximately $250 million annually on all aspects of technology.
From next to last place in the nation, Massachusetts has built its educational technology infrastructure so that 90% of schools are wired and there is a computer for every five students. This is a significant achievement but not nearly enough to remain competitive.
BEST was able to support technology in schools by building and sustaining a broad coalition of all the major stakeholders with strong grassroots support; creating a very effective organization (including the first lobbying effort by e-mail); and drawing on devoted volunteer efforts, and a strong core of committed supporters in the Legislature and state government. The environment of the 90s was highly supportive of BESTs cause, in several respects:
Computers became more affordable, and educational software and online resources became increasingly more available and more useful.
An increasing number of jobs required computer skills.
Parents realized that their children would need technology skills for their careers, and supported investment in school technology with their legislators and school committees.
The economy boomed throughout the 90's, enhancing state and local revenues that were committed to this investment.
Supporting educational technology was a political issue that was relatively inexpensive and uniformly popular, so political support was nearly unanimous.
The national e-rate program provided a large amount of funding and incentives to extend the telecommunications infrastructure of schools.
THE PRESENT ENVIRONMENT
The environment has now changed dramatically. This is partially a result of success: the digital divide is shrinking; 90% of children use computers, most through schools; a majority of households and 90% of schools have Internet access. The end of the technology-driven boom, and the events of 9/11 have also altered personal and public priorities. State and local government revenues are plunging, and federal dollars, including the continuation of the e-rate funding, are uncertain.
There is still a need for infrastructure. Teachers cannot be expected to use technology if they do not have what they need or if it is not reliable. Since the rest of the country has also been working hard, Massachusetts ranking has risen, but only to 37th in computers and 39th in school Internet connections. Current fiscal constraints place even these gains at risk, an unfortunate situation for a state where the economy and job opportunities depend heavily on technology, and where parents facing a high cost of living demand modern, high quality schools for their children.
Yet the greater barrier for educational technology is now shifting from infrastructure to curriculum integration and professional development. The urgent need to build the capacity of schools to incorporate 21st century skills and proficiencies into curricula within the context of academic standards is apparent in the number of high profile groups which are publishing reports. This has everything to do with making sure that our students thrive in a digital economy. It is also a vital component of school reform, because technology is a powerful solvent of the status quo and a promoter of change. But unless there is a real understanding and acceptance of the new basic skills, the back to basics tendency will work against the use of technology and all of the Commonwealths previous advances will be at risk.
In today's fiscal climate, with an increased emphasis on result-driven accountability, local leaders will only make technology a priority if it measurably contributes to achieving such goals as improved student learning outcomes, faculty training, curriculum alignment, administration efficiency, and data driven decision-making.
BEST will therefore focus its advocacy on three major areas: professional development, regulatory guidelines, and sufficient funding.
Understanding and making improvements in schools requires a culture change, and to that end, the effective use of technology continues to be seen as a catalyst for new ways of teaching and above all, learning. Technology professional development is a critical component in supporting educators as they tackle the complexity of these new challenges.
Increased competency in the use of technology can have a significant impact on teacher quality and professionalism. As a valuable resource in the classroom and laboratory, technology is an integral component of pre-service and in-service education. It gives teachers new tools for handling the non-teaching aspects of their job, alleviating some of these burdens. It is a medium of communication within a profession whose practitioners have often been isolated from their peers and lacking sufficient opportunity to solve teaching dilemmas. It facilitates the development of curriculum and instructional strategies that promote greater student inquiry and exploration. It provides new opportunity for assessing the impact of educational programs on student achievement. It is also fundamental to developing teachers as educational leaders for a digital age.
Quality professional development that appropriately leverages technology helps educators to identify best practices; enables educators to work more efficiently and productively, and helps educators use vast amounts of data to make informed decisions. These comprise the fundamental issue, which is the development of teachers as professionals.
The varying technical capacities of the school districts in Massachusetts together with the Commonwealths constitutional responsibility for educational opportunity and its role as a major funder of local schools, make state oversight and technical assistance critically important to the success of educational technology in Massachusetts. BEST will support key regulatory guidelines contributing significantly to the achievement of both programmatic and technology-use goals.
Through Education Reform, the legislature set the stage for improved student outcomes with the establishment of standards and assessment criteria. Leveraging educational technology in support of education reform can be further extended through regulations that address core learning environment issues such as the design of a school, curriculum materials, and a teachers preparedness in the classroom. The look and feel of an effective learning environment is shifting to one that must accommodate different grouping structures, project based-learning activities, and technology; these changes can be anticipated and supported by enhancing the school building reimbursement criteria. Curriculum materials can be made easier to use and more accessible to a broader range of student needs if regulations encouraged publishers to make all curriculum materials available in multiple formats (e.g., paper and digital). In making curriculum materials more flexible, a teacher can more easily address the different learning needs in the classroom and further ensure access to the general curriculum for all Massachusetts students, with particular benefit to students with disabilities, students with literacy issues, and students who are not yet proficient in English. And while great attention has been paid to teacher preparation, certification, and re-certification, further work needs to be done by providing more comprehensive support and incentives for the implementation of ongoing, standards-driven, technology infused, school-based professional development that research suggests is most effective.
In the context of the above ideas, BEST continues to work to make sufficient funds available to help pay for the cost of creating and maintaining the infrastructure, equipment, software and other components that support successful integration of technology. The progress schools have made will be in jeopardy if we are unable to sustain our investment. BEST aims to ensure that this investment is safeguarded as well as leveraged. The legislative provisions of ESEA:NCLB give the state the opportunity to design policy and fund the critical educational technology issues. In Massachusetts the legislature can rely on BEST to highlight and promote the important goals and actions for continuing to invest in educational technology.
BEST promotes professional development, regulatory guidelines, and sufficient funding because these issues are critically important to enhancing academic achievement with educational technology. BEST makes clear the kinds of educational technology policies that are appropriate for improving student learning outcomes, faculty training, curriculum alignment, administrative efficiency, and data driven decision-making. BEST's major focus continues to be the State House, addressing statewide laws and funding issues.
Back to all Papers and Testimony
No Child Left Behind Act of 2001: Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. http://www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/esea/index.html