Federal

Plan to Zero Out U.S. Technology Grants Draws Fire

By Andrew Trotter — February 28, 2006 6 min read
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A $272 million program to help states and school districts use technology for education would be axed under President Bush’s fiscal 2007 budget, partly because the White House says it lacks rigorous data on its effectiveness.

But education groups defending the Enhancing Education Through Technology program argue that the administration would get the information it needs, if only it would await the results of three ongoing federal studies costing millions of dollars, the first of which began in 2001.

“That’s a waste of the time and resources that have gone into setting up these scientifically based research grants,” said Melinda G. George, the executive director of the State Education Technology Directors Association, based in Arlington, Va.

The association is part of a coalition of groups pushing Congress to preserve the EETT grant program, sometimes known as E2T2. Created as part of the 4-year-old No Child Left Behind Act, the program distributes money both through a formula that favors disadvantaged students and through a competitive-grant process overseen by states.

Projects supported by EETT run a huge gamut, from creating digital curriculum content to supporting teacher training in the use of technology and its integration into lessons. The money is tapped to involve parents through technology, to use data in decisionmaking, and to assess student learning by computer or online.

Setting Priorities

Timothy J. Magner, the newly appointed director of the U.S. Department of Education’s office of educational technology, said last week that the effectiveness of the EETT grants should be judged through an “outcomes-based evaluation rather than anecdote.”

“I certainly don’t want to pre-empt that [research] in any way,” he said. “We’ll reserve judgment for effectiveness when we look at those [studies].”

Still, he said, the administration’s proposal to eliminate the program was “a question of prioritizing resources,” especially in light of strains on the federal treasury from the war in Iraq and the costs of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

“One of the unfortunate facts of life is we have to prioritize resources,” he said in an interview Feb. 22, the day his appointment was announced. “People can argue with the priorities and petition their congressional representatives if they disagree.”

Education groups are making that case, contending that the program advances the broader goals of the No Child Left Behind Act.

This is the second year in a row that the administration has called for zeroing out the EETT program. Congress decided to preserve it for the current fiscal year, but reduced its funding to $272 million, compared with $496 million in fiscal 2005. For its first three years, the program was funded at $700 million annually.

“The zeroing-out of EETT funding is a slap in the face of Congress and the schools they represent that are using technology to embrace the requirements of NCLB and transform schools for relevant and engaging student learning,” said Don Knezek, the chief executive officer of the International Society for Technology in Education, based in Eugene, Ore.

The Bush administration’s fiscal 2007 budget proposal says that there is no longer a “significant need” for EETT, in part because of the spread of technology in schools over the past few years. It also notes that other federal education grants can be used to pursue many of the program’s goals.

Currently, the White House Office of Management and Budget has assigned EETT its rating of “not performing,” which is posted with ratings of other government programs on the budget office’s Web site, ExpectMore.gov. (“New Web Site Rates Performance of Federal Programs,” Feb. 15, 2006.

The reason, given in the OMB’s shorthand, is “results not demonstrated,” which puts the program into the same category with programs deemed “ineffective.” That’s thin ice, because nearly all the 42 programs that the budget slated for elimination were rated ineffective or “results not demonstrated.”

The three ongoing federal studies related to EETT have yet to report findings. One is the Evaluating State Educational Technology Programs study, which began in 2003. Ten states are conducting that $10 million evaluation effort; the results are due in the fall.

Another is a three-year, controlled classroom study of computer-based products for teaching reading and math, being conducted by Mathematica Policy Research Inc., based in Princeton, N.J. The $10 million National Study of the Effectiveness of Educational Technology Interventions, launched in 2004, is supposed to report results in 2007.

The third is the National Educational Technology Trends Study, an evaluation of the implementation of EETT-funded projects in states, districts, and schools that began in 2001 and collected data in 2004 and 2005. Findings from the study by SRI International, in Menlo Park, Calif., which is also a partner in the Mathematica study, are due in 2007.

In the interview, Mr. Magner said that the EETT program “has merit,” and that it is important to make greater use of technology in math and science instruction and in many other aspects of education.

Mr. Magner, 39, returned to the Education Department from an eight-month stint at the Council of Chief State School Officers. While he was serving as the deputy executive director of technology there, the president and the executive director of the chiefs’ group together sent a Dec. 8 letter to President Bush asking him to budget the EETT program at a level of “at least $496 million.”

50-State Survey

Ms. George said that in the absence of the federal studies, a new survey commissioned by the state technology officials’ group and conducted last fall by the Metiri Group, based in Culver City, Calif., is the most comprehensive report available on the impact of EETT. The results of the 50-state survey were to be released this week in a 66-page report.

A majority of the states said they have used EETT money to target the goals in the federal education law, often combining the money with other sources of funds, according to a draft of the report.

The study highlights several trouble spots, as it has the past two years, one stemming from the fact that nearly half the program’s formula grants to school districts fall below $5,000. “Grants that small have very little impact on the advancement of the NCLB goals,” the report says, in a conclusion similar to a finding by the White House budget office.

Respondents also reported that states have exceeded the law’s requirement to use at least one-quarter of the money for teacher professional development.

Mr. Knezek said teachers’ technology skills are a potential casualty if the EETT program is eliminated.

But the Bush administration’s budget statement points out that professional development can be supported by, for example, the federal Improving Teacher Quality State Grants. Funding for that $2.9 billion program is unchanged in the president’s request from its fiscal 2006 level.

Without saying so directly, Mr. Magner seemed to suggest that states and districts should be putting more of their money into using technology, noting that the grants were designed to “support, not supplant,” local funds.

“There’s an open question there about the level of local and state investment in technology,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the March 01, 2006 edition of Education Week as Plan to Zero Out U.S. Technology Grants Draws Fire

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