Ed-Tech Policy

Ed. Dept. Revising Its Priorities For School Technology

By Andrew Trotter — May 24, 2000 3 min read

It’s time to revise the nation’s goals for education technology, according to the Department of Education, which has been seeking comments on suggested changes.

Since 1996, four overriding principles have framed the Clinton administration’s approach to school technology: All teachers will have the training and support they need to help students learn to use technology; all teachers and students will have modern multimedia computers in their classrooms; every classroom will be connected to the Internet; and effective software and online-learning resources will be integral parts of every school’s curriculum.

Those goals, known as the “four pillars,” have influenced federal initiatives ranging from the creation of the E-rate program, which provides schools and libraries with discounts on telecommunications services, to grant programs such as the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund.

The pillars have taken on currency outside Washington as well, in part by influencing state and local officials who have administered or applied for federal technology grants and by influencing experts who evaluated applications and the funded projects.

But the landscape of technology in the schools has shifted over the past four years, and many experts believe the goals are due for a re-examination.

"[The goals] helped focus attention on [technology-]access issues and things that are fairly easy to count,” said Barbara Means, a researcher in educational technology at SRI International, a think tank in Menlo Park, Calif. “Now there’s an interest in getting a deeper look at the experiences teachers and students are having.”

The Education Department commissioned background papers last fall on how the goals could be revised; the papers are now posted online, at www.air.org/forum. The public-comment period ended last week.

“I would hope this revision would be the result of a continuing conversation we have had for seven years,” Linda G. Roberts, the department’s director of educational technology, said. “We’ve been trying very hard to be open to feedback.”

The department plans to release the revised goals in the fall.

Research Pillar?

Some possible changes were discussed by a panel of experts the department assembled for two days in Washington in December.

Most agreed that the department needed a new “pillar” that would focus on research into the best ways to use technology, said Ms. Means, who was on the panel.

Another new issue was preparing children for the intellectual and moral demands of the digital age. “One thing that came through from the group of experts was this notion of focusing on technology literacy and cyber-citizenship and responsibility,” Ms. Roberts said. “That never came up as a goal five years ago.”

Ms. Roberts, who did the initial research and drafting of the four pillars, said she was gratified that they had been widely accepted in policy discussions on education technology. But the work that people have done on the goals and the need to tackle new challenges make a review necessary, she said.

“It would be mistake to feel like we’re done,” Ms. Roberts said.

Some pillars may not change, she added.

The number of multimedia computers and classrooms connected to the Internet has risen sharply since 1996, and policymakers have taken steps to bolster the technological skills of teachers and teachers-in-training. But less progress has been made in developing high-quality instructional software and online resources, some experts say.

William L. Rukeyser, the president of Learning in the Real World, a nonprofit clearinghouse on education technology in Woodland, Calif., said he would welcome a greater emphasis by the federal government on research into the educational effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of technology.

“It seems that in a lot of ways, the whole education technology effort has been driven by shopping-cart mentality,” said Mr. Rukeyser, an outspoken critic of what he sees as many school systems’ headlong rush into technology. “It’s always easier to acquire something than to achieve something.”

A version of this article appeared in the May 24, 2000 edition of Education Week as Ed. Dept. Revising Its Priorities For School Technology

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