Despite cuts to popular state programs, Illinois is pushing ahead with efforts to get more teachers, students, and administrators to improve their familiarity with technology, in keeping with state officials’ long-term goals.
Illinois has state standards for technology that encourage the use of computers and the Internet in daily applications within schools. The state, along with the federal government, has actively supported efforts such as the Illinois Virtual High School—a state-administered program financed with state and federal money that was founded in 2000—and the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, a publicly supported school in Aurora, Ill. The virtual high school allows public, private, and home school students to take courses online for high school or college credit.
By 2006, the state hopes to assess the technology skills of 8th graders at schools around the state that are receiving various competitive technology grants from the federal government, says Dana F. Kinley, the division administrator for curriculum and instruction for the state board of education. Eventually, the state plans to expand that testing to students in other grades.
A longer-term goal of Illinois officials is also to improve technology literacy among teachers before they reach the classroom. To that end, the state hopes to cooperate with colleges and universities to improve technology training within teacher education programs, Kinley says.
School districts across Illinois have seen less money coming from popular state technology programs, most notably Closing the Gap, an effort that helps pay for technology infrastructure and professional development, and a program that gives low-interest loans to districts for technology improvements. The Closing the Gap program was cut from $5.5 million for the 2003-04 school year to zero for 2004-05; state officials did not have a final estimate of the money awarded through the loan program for the 2004-05 school year.
Overall, technology funding accounts for well under 1 percent of Illinois’ general fund education spending of roughly $5.8 billion. State school technology funding fell from more than $11 million for the 2003-04 school year to $4 million this school year, though it is proposed to increase by $1 million next year, state board of education spokeswoman Becky Watts says.