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Report Links Access to Technology to Math, Science Reform

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Ensuring that all schools have access to technology and that staff members and students know how to use it can help pave the way for changes in math and science instruction, says a report to be released this week.

In 1990, fewer than 10 percent of American 17-year olds "could use detailed scientific data to draw conclusions or infer relationships," and more than half of all high school seniors had not mastered 7th-grade math skills, according to the report by the New York City-based Committee for Economic Development.

The report, "Connecting Students to a Changing World: A Technology Strategy for Improving Mathematics and Science Education," urges the use of technology to help students learn. Computers allow students to better visualize models and concepts, analyze data, and gain access to information not ordinarily available in school libraries, it says.

Schools that have adopted technology-based instruction have found that it reinforces basic as well as higher-order skills.

The report notes that at the Ralph Bunche Elementary School in New York, students attending a technology "minischool" performed better than their peers on standardized math and reading tests, even though they received no specific coaching for the tests.

Training Teachers

Many teachers, however, feel unprepared to use technology in instruction, the report says. While 80 percent of math and science teachers believe that computers are important for instruction, more than half say they do not have the skills to use them.

And schools with the largest concentration of poor students tend to have the least amount of computer equipment, it says. The study also concluded that size has a greater influence than the proportion of low-income or minority students, with large schools tending to have fewer computers per student than smaller schools.

"Technology in the classroom is no longer an educational frill; it is becoming a necessity, and we need to address the widening technology gap between low-income and affluent kids," said Sandra Kessler Hamburg, the vice president and director of education studies at the ced, a research group that makes recommendations on economic policy.

"The [ced~'s] new study highlights the important role technology can play in ensuring that student learning keeps pace with these changing times," U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said in a statement last week.

The report urges schools to adopt a comprehensive response and says that "closing the performance gap will require comprehensive and coordinated change that combines efforts in three distinct but interdependent areas." The areas it cites are:

  • Improving education governance and management to create schools that are "communities of learning";
  • Raising math and science standards, improving curriculum and assessment, and increasing teacher knowledge and skill; and
  • Adopting new technologies that can help bolster efforts in the first two areas and give students a direct connection to the tools of the modern workplace.

It recommends that schools focus on improving teachers' skills by integrating the use of information technology into professional-development programs and teacher education coursework, as well as giving teachers greater access to technology both at home and at school, such as by having portable notebook computers available for teachers to borrow.

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