Department Begins Work On National Ed. Technology Plan

By Andrew Trotter — June 18, 2003 4 min read
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The Department of Education has begun formulating a new national plan for the use of technology in American schools.

Officials say the plan, the nation’s third since 1996, will encompass recent changes in technology—trends such as online learning, virtual schools, technology literacy, and data-driven decisionmaking. At the same time, the blueprint will reflect the goals of the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001, which mandated drafting of the new plan.

“It will celebrate a lot of progress we’ve made, while further addressing those areas and some other areas that have emerged, and will help mapping out strategies,” said John P. Bailey, the director of the department’s office of educational technology. He is spearheading the planning effort.

Mr. Bailey said his boss, Secretary of Education Rod Paige, “is interested in exploring not just opportunities presented by distance learning and virtual schools, but what are some of the policies that are forming barriers that are inhibiting distance learning.”

The first national education technology plan, unveiled by President Clinton in 1996 during the Internet boom’s zenith and the run-up to his comfortable re- election that year, was influential in framing debates on educational technology and the direction of federal support during the late 1990s. It defined four essential elements of successful technology use: good-quality content, teacher training, Internet connections, and multimedia computing.

“Those goals came out of the very broad outreach around the country we did,” said Linda G. Roberts, who was the department’s director of educational technology under then-Secretary Richard W. Riley.

During the rest of that decade, the number of computers in the nation’s schools and proportion of classrooms with connections to the Internet zoomed upward, and many policymakers and educators came to accept the need for spending on professional development for teachers in technology.

But critics also argued that many school uses of technology were ineffective or unproven. The second plan during Mr. Riley’s tenure called for using research on student learning to guide technology decisions, among other principles. But that plan was aborted by the turnover of administrations that coincided with its release in early 2001.

Building the Plan

It’s time for a new plan, said Ms. Roberts, who now serves on the boards of directors of several technology companies.

But an updated blueprint will surely face a harsher economic environment than the first plan did in 1996, when the coffers of many states were full.

For the first phase of the new planning effort, the Education Department is soliciting ideas for topics the plan should address. A Web site devoted to the project—nationaledtechplan.org—urges interested individuals or groups to fax or e-mail their suggestions by the end of July.

Parents, students, educators, education organizations, and businesses—among other participants—then will be invited to take part in meetings and focus groups this summer and the coming fall to develop the plan, Mr. Bailey said. Some forums will be held online.

The department has hired the Washington-based American Institutes for Research to write the resulting report. The State Education Technology Directors Association, a nonprofit trade group of state officials based in Arlington, Va., and the International Society for Technology in Education, in Eugene, Ore., will publicize opportunities to join in the planning process.

Students, in particular, are to be involved to an unprecedented degree, Mr. Bailey said.

“We want to be discussing ways students are growing up differently as a result of being exposed to technology outside of school—such as online games, [digital music files] instant messaging,” he said. “There’s a fair amount of expectations that are being created by students as a result of being exposed to technology out of school.”

Jayne Moore, a member of the committee from the state technology directors’ group that is working on the plan, said her organization would survey the states to identify “overarching themes.”

Ms. Moore, the director of instructional technology and school library media in the Maryland Department of Education, said she and other state educational technology directors would flag for attention the No Child Left Behind law’s requirement that by 2005, students be “technology literate” by the 8th grade.

Another state priority will be the development of technologies to help collect and analyze data to meet the law’s reporting requirements, she said.

Inevitably, the plan will strike political sparks, Mr. Bailey acknowledged, citing the issue of online or virtual schooling. Some teachers’ unions and state boards of education have begun to stake out opposing positions, for example, on how to judge the qualifications of teachers in online courses that cross district or state boundaries, and on how to pay for online instruction.

“It’s hard to develop any report that really does attempt to make a difference, without stepping on some toes,” Mr. Bailey said.

When the plan is complete—tentatively, early next year—Mr. Paige will present it to Congress. The report will guide the agency’s education technology programs and be useful to school leaders, not merely become another piece of “shelfware,” Mr. Bailey said.

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