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Report: U.S. Schools Lack E-Learning Policies

Education leaders are lagging behind in drafting policies to govern the use of online courses in the nation's schools, according to a report by the National Association of State Boards of Education.

For More Info
"Any Time, Any Place, Any Path, Any Pace: Taking the Lead on e-Learning Policy" is available from the National Association of State Boards of Education. (Requires Adobe's Acrobat Reader.) A print version of the report can also be ordered for $14 by calling (800) 220-5183.

The report warns that, as a result, an ad hoc educational technology system is evolving that features impressive "islands of innovation," but one that may ultimately increase educational disparities between students, fail to promote a high standard of education for all students, and squander the promise of new "e-learning" technologies.

"Our work is a clarion call to policymakers to set thoughtful and coherent policy on issues surrounding e-learning and technology in schools," said Jean Gulliver, the chairwoman of Maine's state board of education and the chairwoman of the study group that produced the report.

The 52-page report, "Any Time, Any Place, Any Path, Any Pace: Taking the Lead on e-Learning Policy," was released last Friday. It calls on state board members and other education leaders to undertake a wholesale revision of their learning standards, to bring assessments online, and to guarantee equity and technology access for all students to facilitate the future use and expansion of instructional technology. NASBE billed the new study as a road map for setting priorities and developing policies.

The report says a historic makeover of public education is under way, fueled in part by the estimated $7 billion annually that state and local governments are spending to equip schools with computers, networks, and other hardware and software. Billions more are being invested in communications infrastructure through the federal "E-rate" program, which provides funding to schools and libraries for telecommunications services.

But the process of setting policies to harness technology for learning is being dominated by corporations, which are actively lobbying state legislators who feel overwhelmed by the complexity of the subject.

"The events are running ahead of the policymakers at the state and local levels; they need to address this right away," said James Bogden, the report's principal author and a project director at NASBE. He said the Alexandria, Va.-based group is seeking funding for a multiyear project "to provide direct technical assistance to interested states on developing these policies."

Among the key barriers to e-learning, according to the report, is the reluctance by educators to consider new approaches to teaching. It notes, however, that such an attitude is a difficult area to address through policy.

Other barriers, where NASBE believes policies can make more of an impact, include a lack of incentives and external pressures to promote change, insufficient training and professional skills for teachers in regard to technology, allocation of resources in a way that perpetuates the status quo, and governance obstacles, such as the overlapping jurisdiction of policy-setting organizations.

State and local boards of education will have to wrestle with adapting systems of accountability to an education system that crosses traditional geographic boundaries, the report said. Educators also must address who is responsible for payment, quality control, and other matters when students take classes over the Internet, the report adds.

Broad policy issues also need to be addressed concerning the acceptance of teacher licensure and professional development standards across state lines, the study says. The issue could arise when e-learning enables students in one state to take classes taught by instructors in another. Such issues make a difference in terms of educational equity, according to the report.

In making changes, the report noted, policymakers should remember that administrators, parents, and members of the general public take comfort in maintaining traditional institutions and practices.

—Andrew Trotter

Vol. 21, Issue 8, Page 13

Published in Print: October 24, 2001, as Technology Update
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