Report and Recommendations from the Technology Alliance's Educational Technology Task Force
The Technology Alliance, in collaboration with Washington Governor Gary Locke and Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson, convened in October of 1997 the Technology in Education Task Force, a group of two dozen educators, legislators, business leaders, and others with expertise and interest in the educational technology field. The Task Force worked for several months to shape a set of proposed action steps to accelerate the best uses of technology to improve student achievement in Washington’s K-12 public schools. As part of that effort, the Task Force surveyed the 296 school districts in the state about their educational technology programs; the results of that survey are integral to this report.
The Task Force also took note of the following facts:
Washington’s economy is increasingly reliant on knowledge workers. For Washington’s students to have a chance of participating successfully in our growing knowledge-based economy, our schools need to do an excellent job of preparing students for a technology-rich world and workplace. What does this imply for our state’s education system? Simply put, access to technology tools and the skills and knowledge they develop is an essential component of a competitive school system. If our children are going to be competitive in a 21st century workplace they must have these skills; and, in fact, excellence in this arena can give our children tremendous advantages. Ignoring technology or poor use of these resources leaves our children, and our state, behind. The wise use of technology is only one ingredient in a comprehensive program of education reform, but it is a key ingredient, and strengthens many of the other efforts to improve our schools.
The central reason for learning technology skills is to support and enhance students’ academic achievement. Children learn to keyboard in order to write more clearly, more quickly, and with more confidence. They learn to use the Internet to do research and access information from all over the world; they use math software and learn spreadsheet programs to solve real world problems. Technology, when guided by good teachers, aids and enhances student learning. Can children learn to be good writers without computers? Yes, of course. Will they become better writers sooner with well-designed computer-based curriculum? The answer is also yes.
The whole world is getting wired. Offices, homes, libraries, hospitals, universities, hotels --every institution in our society is transforming itself to respond to the information age. It seems decidedly wrongheaded to leave our most essential places of learning, our schools, out of this transformation. Of all places, our schools should be the ones at the top of the list for participating in the information age, not at the bottom. School, after all, is the place where information, and one hopes, knowledge, is transmitted.
The Four Pillars
It is widely agreed that four elements are required for the successful implementation of educational technology, each of which the President has described as a "pillar". All of the elements must be present for an educational technology program to be successful. These Four Pillars are:
- 1. personal computers and other related hardware
- 2. wiring classrooms and other learning spaces to connect to the Internet, called connectivity
- 3. content and curriculum development, and
- 4. teacher training or professional development.
A national group of technology executives called the CEO Forum on Education and Technology (CEO Forum) has further delineated what are the necessary components in each of the four pillars and has created a "STaR Chart" for assessing School Technology and Readiness. The CEO Forum is conducting an annual benchmarking of America’s schools over the next four years in hopes of measuring their movement from "Low Tech" to an ideal level they call "Target Tech." The goal is to successfully integrate all four pillars into a seamless program that uses technology tools to improve students’ academic achievement.
As was learned from the Task Force’s survey, Washington state has made some progress in all four of the pillars. We have, however, significant work ahead of us to have our K-12 public schools throughout the state at the Target Tech level.
HARDWARE As of 1998, Washington State has a fairly good ratio of students to personal computers, with four students per personal computer at the high school and junior high level, and five students per personal computer at the grade school level. However, over half of these personal computers are obsolete and outdated, which severely limits what teachers can do with them instructionally. Currently, there is only one "networkable" computer for every 13 students in our state. Maintaining computer hardware and systems is a seriously under-funded component of most school programs. A typical technical support professional in a business setting will support about 40 personal computers. Even in the most well funded school districts, a typical tech staff person is supporting over 350 personal computers. Only 14% of our school districts can meet a "down-time" of two days or less for a classroom computer, and 30% of our school districts have no "official" maintenance staff at all.
CONNECTIVITY Washington state has invested over $60 million in the "K-20 Network," the state’s own high-bandwidth educational network, linking schools that educate students from kindergarten through graduate school. This system, which is currently being built, does not include plans or funding for each school’s internal network or wiring. At the local level, school districts and buildings, because of differing resources, priorities, experiences and outlooks, have placed varying degrees of emphasis on connecting their teachers and students to online resources. However, the promise of the K-20 network has served as an incentive to local school districts, and 64% of Washington’s K-12 public school instructional spaces now have a direct link to the Internet. Additionally, 85% of our schools have a least one local area network (LAN) and 76% of our schools have at least one dedicated data line. However, there are still 5% of our school districts (representing 6,000 students) that have no Internet access at all.
CONTENT Three key definitions help outline this pillar. Content is defined as the substantive material used to teach subject matter. Examples of content are: a story read out loud; a math problem set; a history textbook; a software program with math puzzles; a web site on the rainforest. Curriculum is a collection of content, together with lesson plans, activities and other processes, organized into a scope and sequence that constitute the plan for achieving educational objectives. EALRs are the Essential Academic Learning Requirements. This is the term Washington State uses to describe what children in our state should be able to achieve, know and apply at certain defined milestones as a result of their schooling. They are objectives that the content and curricula should be organized to achieve.
In Washington state, the use of technology to develop and deliver content and curriculum varies enormously from school to school, and from classroom to classroom within a school. The technology-in-schools movement has been led by a few teacher-pioneers, often called "early adopters" who have found a variety of ways to get kids excited about learning through the use of technology. The challenge for our state is to develop curriculum, both in traditional and electronic forms, that is tied to the EALRs, as this is how our children, their teachers, school administrators, and the public will measure success over the decades to come.
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT This topic falls into two distinct areas: Pre-Service or the training teachers receive as they prepare for the profession in college; and In-Service or the training teachers receive after they have graduated and begun their professional careers.
Pre-Service: A majority of our teacher preparation programs are falling far short of what needs to be done to prepare teachers for 21st century classrooms. Few teacher preparation programs have identified or allocated the funding required to reshape their curriculum to integrate technology in meaningful ways. Many colleges and universities are making the same mistake that was made by K-12 schools in the early year of the technology-in-schools movement: they treat "technology" as a special addition to the teacher education curriculum--requiring specially prepared faculty and specially equipped classrooms--but not as a topic that needs to be incorporated across the entire teacher education program. The result is ill-prepared new teachers who are much more costly to train than college students, wasting professional development dollars our state can ill afford to squander.
In-Service: In the past several years, many of Washington’s current teachers have developed basic computer skills, but they still ask, "How do I use a computer in ways that enhance students’ academic achievement and keep them interested in learning?" The vast majority of teachers indicate that they need more training if they are to use technology effectively in the classroom. Studies have concluded that for teachers not trained to use technology during pre-service training, it takes four to five years of in-service training and practice for a teacher to use technology in ways that would match the "Target Tech" standards defined in the STaR Chart.
The model for curriculum integration training often focuses on identifying early adopters who offer training to other teachers. If these technology missionaries are unable to persuade their colleagues to use technology, there is no real incentive for teachers to take the time to learn how to use technology effectively. Principals frequently have had no technology training and often do not use technology to manage their personal productivity or their school’s systems. A principal frequently puts the staff’s needs for training before his or her own; the unfortunate result is many principals that have no experience with how technology can strengthen learning and teaching in general, let alone school administration.
FUNDING Spending on technology during the 1997-98 school year averaged $133 per student, for an estimated total of $132 million for all Washington public schools. Funding educational technology is highly problematic for many school districts. Most school districts do not have nearly enough funds available for their technology needs in their basic operating budgets. A common source of technology funding is through a capital bond or levy. (Thirty percent of district technology monies come from this source.) School districts that can pass a capital bond or levy for technology often end up relying on those sources for most of their technology funding.
Important and disturbing disparities result from the wide range in property values in our state. Districts with higher per pupil property assessments are likely to spend more money per student on technology than those with lower per-pupil property assessments. Federal funding has helped some schools supplement their technology budgets, but it is not a significant source to most districts.
A new source of money to school districts comes from a fund designated by the legislature with the cooperation of the governor, called the Education Savings Account or Fund 291. This fund provided $19.5 million in school technology grants in 1997 and the another $19.5 million in 1998.
Washington state’s constitution provides that it is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the "basic education" of all children in the state. The most comprehensive--although the most politically controversial--solution, would be to redefine basic education to include technology. A potential source is NERC (Non Employee Related Costs) funds, which are allocated by the legislature as part of the basic education package. If technology is considered to be part of basic education, then it can and should be included in NERC.
Ninety-five percent of school districts have some sort of technology plan, but only 14% have 90% or more of the funding identified to implement their plans. Technology plans vary widely in their comprehensiveness. While 64% of the plans include a five-year depreciation and replacement program for equipment, that means that over one third of school districts have not built into their budgets a planned means to replace outdated equipment.
CONCLUSIONS Technology, when integrated into school settings thoughtfully and systemically, has the potential to significantly impact student academic achievement. This process is not easy, nor inexpensive. However, when it is done well, the rewards for children—and their parents and teachers—is significant. Current spending on technology is vastly inadequate, and the spending that is occurring is often determined by the vagaries of funding mechanisms rather than what a school district would like to do if it had more control and flexibility over its finances.
Unfortunately, given the substantial expenditures required to establish a competent technology program in a typical school district, the intractable obstacles of state funding limits, and the widespread inability to pass levies, there does not appear to be any ready or simple solution which will achieve the realization of the benefits of technology in our public education system on a statewide basis. There will need to be identified some new means of funding not currently in place for our state’s children to achieve the educational benefits technology can bring.
Business has poured billions into learning how to manage itself in new ways: by using technology to organize work projects in innovative ways it has become more efficient, as well as more responsive to customers, suppliers and employees. Technology made this change possible and forced the change to happen even in organizations that resisted mightily. Schools are undergoing a similar metamorphosis, from centrally managed bureaucracies to more de-centralized learning communities. Technology will first make this change possible, and then the resulting changes will force new changes to occur. We can fight this change; do it badly, inefficiently and inequitably; or we can do it right. It is going to happen sooner or later anyway, and we are early enough in the process to affect change wisely and well.
The following are our recommendations:
1. Computers Alone Are Not Enough
Acquisition of computer hardware must be integrated with all the other component pillars in order to insure that technology will work successfully in school settings. Included as part of technology acquisitions by schools must be a plan for hardware and system maintenance; connections to the Internet; training teachers and other professionals both on the general use of the technology and its use in the instructional process; appropriate electronic curriculum; and the ongoing funding of all the foregoing. Schools should spend money on new computers only after they have an integrated multi-year plan that includes all of the elements listed above. Current funding mechanisms, which do not support an integrated approach, need to be changed.
2. Investing in People is Essential
The lack of professional development for teachers is the biggest unmet need in the current state of technology in education in Washington. Lack of training for school administrative leadership and lack of technical support in schools run a close second.
A) The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), with the support of the Legislature, and the cooperation of the Governor's office, the Educational Service Districts (ESDs), and the professional associations, should develop and disseminate lesson plans and other instructional guides in the best uses of technology in the classroom. Staff training in technology use needs to get a substantially larger portion of in-service training budgets.
B) A comprehensive professional development program should be established for principals and superintendents in educational technology. This program should include guidance on the most effective uses of technology in classrooms, the funding of technology in schools, and the support of teachers as users of technology in instruction.
C) Our state's teaching colleges should review and revise their teacher training curriculum so that it is more responsive to both ongoing education reform and to the use of technology in the educational process; this should occur without delay.
D) The state staffing formulas for public K-12 schools should be increased to provide an adequate budget for schools to hire lead technology staff and technology support staff.
3. Funding Priorities for Technology Must Be Addressed and Done So on a Statewide Basis
An integrated, statewide approach to funding technology in our public K-12 schools is urgently needed to improve the overall effectiveness and fairness of current and future technology programs. Current funding for technology in Washington’s public schools is inadequate and inequitable and comes from a confusing hodgepodge of sources. Key statewide infrastructure investments have already been made by the state. These infrastructure investments now need to be followed up with a wise use of increased funding to assist all of our K-12 public schools in the integration of technology into the educational process.
A) The Education Savings Account or Fund 291 is an important statewide resource for technology in the classroom and needs the ongoing support of the Legislature.
B) The definition of "basic education" needs to be updated to include technology. NERC (Non Employee Related Costs) funding needs to be increased to address the impact of technology expenditures.
C) Private philanthropy from foundations & businesses should support technology projects & programs in our public schools that take an integrated approach, addressing all four pillars.
4. The Challenge Requires Leadership at the State Level
Some part of official Washington state is going to have to make the effort to see that the tools and training we need are provided. Fundamentally, this is a local problem because of the way our schools are financed in this state. Technology in the schools is not going forward where levies fail. Notwithstanding this essentially local condition we believe that the necessary ingredient is state leadership.