After seeing positive results from a state-sponsored effort to provide local schools with technology coaches, Tennessee officials have decided to expand the program for a second time to reach more schools.
The new phase of the program will build “orbits” of five schools in nine areas of the state, and across district lines, using the 13 schools that had already been participating as “satellites,” whose coaches and staff members will serve as guides for the new participants. Each of the participating schools will have a technology coach, a teacher who has received training in technology and works with colleagues in the classroom to help them integrate technology into instruction. The coaches also run small-group workshops to teach educators how to use new technologies.
“We’ve taken the original concept and tried to expand so we can impact more schools,” says Barry W. Olhausen, the state education department’s executive director of professional development.
Funding for the program, which began as a pilot during the 2003-04 school year, totals $4.8 million. That money—which comes from the federal No Child Left Behind law—will be given out as grants of $538,000 to schools in each of the states’ nine regions. The schools are chosen through a competitive application process.
Tennessee is also using $1.7 million in federal aid for a research project to evaluate the effectiveness of the coaches and compare achievement levels in the schools that use the technology coaches with those that do not.
The state is also using about $2 million from its own coffers for an “online formative-assessment program,” which will offer tests that focus on classroom instruction. That program will build online tests for each of the state’s curriculum objectives in grades K-8, and provide online resources, such as practice tests, for teachers. A pilot of the online assessments will begin during the 2005-06 school year.
Some education leaders are also beginning conversations about the possibility of setting up a state- sponsored online school, which would allow students to take academic courses over the Internet, according to Olhausen.
Tennessee does not give school districts money specifically for educational technology. Rather, it gives school districts funding as part of its per-pupil formula, called the Basic Education Program, to use as they see fit. Schools are expected to spend about $15 million on technology for the 2004-05 school year, according to the state’s education department.