Federal

The Education Department’s Ed-Tech White Paper

November 14, 2008 2 min read

Too bad for us, perhaps, but Margaret Spellings did not choose the Digital Education blog to release her new white paper on educational technology. The U.S. secretary of education chose instead eduwonk for her debut as a guest blogger.

On the other hand, maybe it’s just as well, because what is probably the Bush administration’s last gasp on the subject of educational technology is an anemic effort.

The 10-page document, available here, basically echoes the administration’s previous positions on ed-tech.

It states support for expansion of online and virtual schools, better data systems, individualization of education (through data and online courses), broadband telecommunications, more research on the effectiveness of classroom technology, and leadership.

There is no indication that Secretary Spellings changed any of her views on education technology from the series of four “roundtable” meetings with various ed-tech stakeholders that were the basis for the report.

My story about the first roundtable, held in New York City on March 23, 2007, is here.

It is also interesting to compare the “five key areas” identified in the white paper with the “seven action steps” in the National Education Technology Plan that the Bush administration issued in 2004.

White Paper Key Areas
1. Online Learning and Virtual Schools
2. Transforming Data Into Knowledge and Action
3. Broadband Connectivity
4. Research Efficacy and Impact
5. School Leadership and Professional Preparation

National Ed-Tech Plan Action Steps:
1. Strengthen Leadership
2. Consider Innovative Budgeting
3. Improve Teacher Training
4. Support E-Learning and Virtual Schools
5. Encourage Broadband Access
6. Move Toward Digital Content
7. Integrate Data Systems

So what happened to digital content? And where is improving teacher training?
Are they not as important as the others?

When I asked the Education Department, I was told that the white paper is the secretary’s response to the topics brought up by the participants.

I did not attend any of the roundtables, which were closed to the press. The reason, the department told me in 2007, was so participants could express their views candidly.

But I did interview participants after the first roundtable, and here is some of what I reported:

Business leaders and researchers also had plenty to say at the meeting, stressing the need for teachers’ professional development and describing the potential of technologies, such as handheld assessment devices and video games, to suit specific learning opportunities.

Several educators at the meeting also spoke up:

Mark S. Hannum, a mathematics and physics teacher at Banneker Academic High School in the nation’s capital who presented at the meeting, said, …“Across the board, people decided that the use of technology is more than how many computers are in your classroom, but how you integrate technology into your teaching,” he said.
Mary E. Skipper, the principal of the TechBoston Academy, in Boston, [said] that the school’s use of laptops and data collected from computer-based activities have helped her students overcome learning deficits and contributed to 94 percent of last year’s seniors graduating two- or four-year colleges.
[Mr. Hannum, of Banneker HIgh,] underscored the need for improved professional development of teachers, citing a “big drop-off” in know-how between teachers who are technology stars and those with average skills.

None of these ideas from the first roundtable, at least, are reflected in the new white paper.

The document, however, does suggest that money for technology in classrooms has not always been well spent. It also concludes that more research is needed. Both are points Ms. Spellings has made before.

But that’s as far as she seems willing to go, down the potentially costly and admittedly risky road of robust support for classroom technologies.

Early in Ms. Spellings’ tenure, she held another series of roundtables that led to her creation of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education in 2005. That federal panel released long-range recommendations for the nation’s colleges and universities in August of 2004.

The ed-tech roundtable effort does not appear to have been as productive.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.

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