Two States, Two Approaches
Policies adopted in Texas and Minnesota--both widely considered leaders in computer education--typify the differing approaches states are taking to ensure that students attain computer competency.
A new requirement in Texas, effective this school year, requires all students to take a computer-literacy course in 7th or 8th grade.
By law the course must cover five major elements: terminology; history and use of computers; communicating instructions to the computer, or programming; using the computer as a tool, with experience at least in word-processing, databases, and spreadsheets; and the impact of computers on society.
"There were two ways to go-to teach computer literacy embedded in other content areas, or to teach it as a separate course," said Keith Mitchell, an educational-technology specialist for the Texas Education Agency.
For practical reasons, Mr. Mitchell said, Texas chose to have a separate computer-literacy course. The state could not train enough teachers to integrate computing into a broad range of subjects, he said, "but we could ask one teacher per junior high school to be trained."
"We also had a hardware shortage," he said. ''We needed to bring hardware into one room rather than spread it throughout the school."
As teachers become trained, Mr. Mitchell said, they will begin to use computers within their disciplines, and a separate course may no longer be necessary.
In Minnesota, one of five states that require schools to offer a computer course but make it optional for students, state education officials "do not believe in a computer- literacy course," said Joan Wallin, a technology specialist in the Minnesota Department of Education.
"Kids will learn technology along the way if we incorporate it," she said. ''We learned years ago in the media program that the most effective way to teach research and library skills was to do so in the context of the subject area in which they had some meaning; that you weren't learning a skill in isolation from what you do the rest of the day. We found that is true in technology also."
Programming accounts for less than 5 percent of educational-computing time in Minnesota, according to Gilbert Valdez, manager of the curriculum and technology section of the state department of education.
Minnesota provides funding for districts to develop their own technology-utilization plans, and further supports their efforts with inservice training for teachers, evaluations of courseware packages, and 15 well-funded technology-demonstration sites, he said.
More than 97 percent of the state's districts applied for money to participate in the voluntary technology program, resulting in 391 distinct plans, Mr. Valdez testified at the first meeting of the National Governors Association's Task Force on Technology in Washington this month.
Vol. 5, Issue 19, Page 15