Congress Expected To Put High Priority on Technology
Education technology will figure even more prominently in this year's revamping of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act than it did in the bill's last overhaul, in 1994, according to staff members on Capitol Hill and at the Department of Education.
"The word 'technology' will appear in just about every title in ESEA," predicted Sherry Kaiman, a staff member for the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.
In addition to being mingled throughout the various sections of the major federal K-12 law, first passed in 1965, technology may keep its own separate title. But there is also some interest by members of Congress and the Clinton administration in consolidating technology grant programs into fewer, broader grants, which would add flexibility to schools' use of the aid.
Title III of the esea, added five years ago, provides for much of the federal government's support of education technology, including the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund. Since 1996, the fund has delivered over $1 billion to the states, which award grants competitively to school districts.
At a HELP Committee hearing on the ESEA last week, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said the Education Department would try to focus more of the challenge fund on poor students.
Some merging of small technology programs may also be proposed when the administration submits its detailed reauthorization plan next month, Mr. Riley said.
Other administration priorities will include making a special effort to address the needs of rural schools, by supporting technologies such as distance learning; coordinating ESEA technology programs with another federal program to help students with disabilities; and helping teachers integrate technology into their daily lesson plans, Secretary Riley said.
He cited a recent finding by the National Center for Education Statistics that "currently only 20 percent of our teachers feel qualified to integrate technology throughout the curriculum." The proposal for Title III would support state and local efforts to improve teacher quality, including the formation of partnerships between school districts and institutes of higher education.
At least 30 percent of the $450 million the administration has proposed for the challenge fund in its fiscal 2000 budget would go to projects to improve teachers' command of technology.
The department would also strengthen evaluation efforts to find proven and promising models for using technology to support education reform in the classroom, Mr. Riley said.
As they begin to draft language for the ESEA reauthorization, staff members of the key committees of both houses--HELP in the Senate and the House Education and the Workforce Committee--say Congress will be looking hard at several questions: the quality of teacher training in technology; the availability of solid curricular content using technology; and evidence, such as improvements in students' test scores and success in the workforce, that technology is an effective educational tool.
In an early proposal for the ESEA, Rep. Constance A. Morella, R-Md., introduced a bill in the House last week that would require technology to be incorporated into any ESEA-funded teacher-preparation programs.
Michelle Richards, a lobbyist at the National School Boards Association, said her group would advocate giving school boards more flexibility in deciding how to use federal aid for technology and less red tape in applying for it.
But putting technology dollars into block grants to states, she said, would give budget-cutters the upper hand over the many congressional boosters of school technology.
Federal targeting is still necessary, she added. "For the foreseeable future, the federal role is critical, in providing equity and being able to provide some sort of analysis to decide which programs are good, what kinds of programs to be scaled up."
The technological profile of schools has changed significantly since the current version of the ESEA was written in 1993, before the Internet was widely known or the World Wide Web had been created. Since then, schools' Internet access has increased from less than 1 percent of all classrooms to 44 percent of classrooms.
The federal program of "E-rate" discounts has also contributed to the use of school technology. The government is in the process of handing out $1.9 billion in discounts for the education rate's first year, which will further expand the capacity of schools to use advanced telecommunications.
Vol. 18, Issue 23, Page 34