Guidance Issued for Technology Funds in Stimulus

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Federal officials have issued guidance for using more than $650 million in the economic-stimulus package to bolster educational technology programs in the nation’s schools.

The guidance for the federal Enhancing Education Through Technology program details how states should distribute the money to local grantees and what districts can use it for, and it outlines the reporting requirements attached to the funds, which were released on July 24.

The bump to the EETT program in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act comes at a time when the budget for the primary federal educational technology initiative faces significant cuts—from $267 million to just $100 million—in President Barack Obama’s proposed fiscal 2010 budget.

While educational technology groups have been disappointed with the budget proposal, the stimulus money and the priority the guidance places on innovative uses of school technology are reasons for optimism, experts say.

“I think they’ve done a very nice job of articulating the systemic approach that is necessary for technology to make a difference in the classroom,” said Sara Hall, the deputy director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, based in Glen Burnie, Md.

“Buying stuff does not change student achievement,” she said. “What changes student achievement is the technical support, the curricular support, and the ongoing, embeded professional development.”

Grant recipients must spend at least 25 percent of the funding on “ongoing, sustained, and intensive, high-quality professional development,” the document says.

Open-Source Materials

The guidance allows grantees to use effective software and learning-management systems, including open-source, or free, materials.

Similarly, the proposed guidance for the federal Race to the Top program, a $4.35 billion pot of money intended to provide states with competitive grants to spur education innovation and reform, released last month, indicates that “the state must make freely available all of the outputs (e.g., materials, tools, processes, systems) that it or its designated partners produce related to its grant.” ("Rich Prize, Restrictive Guidelines," this issue.)

Although those grants are not specifically aimed at educational technology projects, the proposed guidance encourages states to invest in technology courses and statewide longitudinal-data systems.

The proposed wording may raise concerns for companies hoping to partner with districts to create proprietary products under the Race to the Top program, said Jay A. Diskey, the director of the school division of the Washington-based Association of American Publishers.

“We’re certainly looking hard at the language,” he said. “That can be interpreted in a variety of ways.”

While many publishers have been offering some of their materials free of charge, some in the industry have said that the rapid growth in open resources could hinder business and discourage investment in new products.

Over the next month, publishers will be looking into whether the language in the proposed Race to the Top guidance refers simply to the sharing of best practices and lessons learned, or if it requires companies to share proprietary products, Mr. Diskey said.

The four guiding principles for distributing the funds: to “spend funds quickly to save and create jobs; improve student achievement through school improvement and reform; ensure transparency, reporting, and accountability; and invest one-time funds from the economic stimulus program thoughtfully to minimize the ‘funding cliff,’ ” which refers to the proposed cuts to the EETT program in fiscal 2010.

The EETT guidance included one surprise that school technology advocates say could spur innovation, according to Keith R. Krueger, the chief executive officer of the Washington-based Consortium for School Networking. States must award at least 50 percent, and as much as 100 percent, of the money on a competitive basis, so that those applications deemed the best will share at least half the grant awards. The other half may be awarded through a formula based on what’s used for the Title I program, which favors schools and districts serving disadvantaged students.

Provisions Praised

The emphasis on competitive grants drew praise from Mr. Krueger and other experts.

“The strong encouragement to distribute the ARRA funds through a 100 percent competitive process provides states with the ability to conduct more-rigorous evaluation and development and in-depth programs to turn around low-performing schools and address the [guidance’s] four assurances,” said Mary Ann Wolf, the executive director of the state educational technology directors’ group.

School technology leaders were also pleased with the requirements that all EETT money from the economic stimulus be tracked and reported quarterly to the public.

States, for example, will have to collect a range of data on students and teachers in districts receiving grants.

Having those requirements defined in the guidance, Ms. Hall said, can help state and local officials begin to formulate their projects and plan systemically as the money is distributed.

Vol. 28, Issue 37, Page 19

Published in Print: August 12, 2009, as Guidance Issued for Technology Funds in Stimulus
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