Federal Opinion

Directionless Dictates

By Doug Johnson — April 15, 2005 3 min read

I’ve always been a sucker for audacious goals advanced by the government. Putting a man on the moon. Connecting all schools to the Internet. Making sure every child is literate. If you’re going to make a plan, plan big.

So it was with great anticipation that I began reading the National Education Technology Plan, which was released by the U.S. Department of Education in January.For the $1.4 million the feds spent on it (which works out to about $20,000 perpage), it ought to be one heck of a plan.

Just a few things were missing--a coherent vision, baseline data on technology use in schools, empirical research indicating best practices, and measurable goals. Funny, these are all things that school districts like mine are asked to provide in our district technology plans. Out of the report’s 60-odd pages, however, we did get six pages covering seven broad “action steps and accompanyingrecommendations.”

The first is “strengthen leadership,"and personally, I’d suggest management and interpersonal skills training before technology training for most administrators. Among other things, the feds also want us to “consider innovative budgeting.” Given the state of school finance, is there any other kind? “Improve teacher training” is ironic considering that the feds recently cut the Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology program (better known as PT3), which was designed to do just that. As for “integrate data systems,” I wonder how many of the 210,000 students who provided the U.S. government with input mentioned the importance of this.

As you may have guessed, I found these recommendations uninspiring, things that most districts are already working toward rather than dreaming about. Say what you will about its ugly implementation, but the goals of No Child Left Behind are exciting--all children literate and all teachers highly qualified. The NCLB provision requiring that all children be technology literate by the end of 8th grade isn’t even mentioned in the NETP. And the issues we as educators think are important--what our children can and should be doing with technology--were simply left out.

Where are the NETP’s educational goals, such as ensuring that all students can use information technology to solve problems and communicate effectively? Or that everyone in schools can use online resources safely and ethically and that children with special needs can meet their educational goals through the use of adaptive technologies? How about permanently closing the digital divide by providing 24/7 access to online opportunities for every kid in the country?

I am curious to know whether any of the input the feds collected from practitioners and educational organizations was actually read. I don’t see my suggestions reflected in the plan, but then again, I didn’t expect that. My vision of technology use is rather different from that of the federal education department and technology companies with lobbying power.

Knowing that we currently have an administration that uses oil companies to write energy policy, I suspect that consultant and author (and one-time special ed teacher) Nancy Willard is correct in assuming that those companies with a strong economic interest in this plan had a major role in its construction, as well. On the well trafficked WWWEDU online forum, she calls the NETP a “business growth plan for the educational technology and Internet companies” and notes the enthusiastic response to the plan by the Software & Information Industry Association. She rightly questions who is “in the driver’s seat” of this plan--business or education?

Still, I’m not losing much sleep over this document, which for now amounts to only vague recommendations. Until federal funds are allocated with the requirement that one of its “action steps” is addressed in order to receive them, I think we can all safely put the education department’s report on the shelf. It is far more important that our district and state tech plans reflect educational values.

The NETP is no “man on the moon by the end of the decade” challenge but rather an incomplete set of instructions on building a irectionless bottle rocket. What could have been an opportunity to help schools become technologically savvy turned out to be an expensive waste of time.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the May 01, 2005 edition of Teacher as Directionless Dictates


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy to Advance Educational Equity
Schools are welcoming students back into buildings for full-time in-person instruction in a few short weeks and now is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and systems to build
Content provided by PowerMyLearning
Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn
Professional Development Webinar Expand Digital Learning by Expanding Teacher Training
This discussion will examine how things have changed and offer guidance on smart, cost-effective ways to expand digital learning efforts and train teachers to maximize the use of new technologies for learning.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Biden Calls on Schools to Host COVID-19 Vaccination Clinics for Kids 12 and Up
The president is focusing on vaccinating children ages 12 and older as concerns grow about the Delta variant and its impact on schools.
2 min read
President Joe Biden speaks in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, Wednesday, June 2, 2021, in Washington.
President Joe Biden speaks in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus on June 2.
Evan Vucci/AP
Federal How Political Backlash to Critical Race Theory Reached School Reopening Guidance
A lawmaker wants Miguel Cardona to repudiate the Abolitionist Teaching Network after federal COVID-19 documents referenced the group's work.
6 min read
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., is seen at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 9, 2021 in Washington.
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., is seen at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 9, 2021 in Washington.<br/>
Graeme Sloan/SIPA USA via AP
Federal Biden Team: Schools Can Go Beyond Trump Rules in Response to Alleged Sexual Misconduct
The Education Department's guidance, released July 20, states that Title IX rules from 2020 lay out "minimum steps" for educators.
3 min read
Symbols of gender.
Federal Fact Check: After Furor Over 1619 Project, Feds Adjust History and Civics Grant Plans
A previously obscure history and civics program has weathered a political storm, but what exactly has changed?
4 min read
Education secretary nominee Miguel Cardona speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination on Feb. 3, 2021, in Washington.
Education secretary nominee Miguel Cardona speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination on Feb. 3, 2021, in Washington.
Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times via AP