A House subcommittee that has been trolling for ideas on how education technology should be treated under the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act honed in on the issue of teacher preparedness at a hearing last week.
Asked about priorities for federal support of school technology, Dale Mann, a professor and senior research associate at the Institute on Education and the Economy at Teachers College, Columbia University, said: “At the top of the list, I’d put strengthening the professional-development component” of technology programs.
The hearing was the second on education technology held by the Education and the Workforce Committee’s subcommittee on early-childhood education. Congress has barely begun work on the reauthorization of the ESEA, under which most federal support for K-12 education, including school technology, is provided. The Clinton administration’s ESEA proposal is expected to be released this week.
Subcommittee Chairman Michael N. Castle, R-Del., urged the six panelists to include the “downside” along with the positive in their case studies of the impact of technology in schooling.
Mr. Mann told the eight House members in attendance that several studies he has been involved with show that technology is effective in raising student achievement. But to be effective, he said, technology must be concentrated, distributed to both teachers and students, and sustained financially over a period of years.
“A sprinkling of computers does little good,” Mr. Mann said.
Terri Austin of the Anderson, Ind., schools, said teacher training was a centerpiece of the district’s ACT Now! Project, which received one of the initial federal Technology Innovation Challenge Grants provided under the ESEA in 1995. The project supports technology initiatives in the context of school reform, including helping families and communities acquire and learn to use computers.
Several participants agreed that giving teachers opportunities to use technology and the gradual replacement of older teachers with new ones who are more comfortable with technology would ease the skills problem.
But Robert F. McNergney, a professor of educational leadership, foundations, and policy at the University of Virginia, said schools of education were still lagging in providing technology skills.
“It’s not happening. It’s extremely difficult to wedge technology into programs that are already packed,” said Mr. McNergney, who is serving a one-year term as president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.
The recipient of another of the federal technology grants, Bruce Droste of the Concord Consortium in Concord, Mass., said the Virtual High School that he directs has assembled a “virtual faculty” of teachers in several states and other countries who teach accredited online courses that other participating schools can use for their students. The teachers first take a graduate-level online course themselves in effective teaching methods.
Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., suggested that teachers, led by their unions, would be an obstacle to using technology to escape the archaic “industrial model” of education because teachers, he said, have the same fear of technology that the blacksmith had of the automobile.
“The smart blacksmith learned how to change a tire pretty quickly,” Mr. Droste replied, adding that a member of the National Education Association is on his consortium’s board.
Henry Marockie, the state superintendent of schools in West Virginia, underlined the need for the state role in handing out the ESEA’s Technology Literacy Challenge Fund grants, which are distributed to states to award competitively to individual districts.
He said his state’s “turnkey solution” of giving all elementary schools a standard set of computers, required training, and a software package to teach basic skills had eased the problem of developing teacher skills. “The teacher has mobility, but only needs to be trained once,” he said. The state is expanding the approach to higher grade levels, he added.
But Eugene Hickok, the Pennsylvania secretary of education, replied that while he agreed of some of Mr. Marockie’s goals, “we’re not big fans of centralized systems.”
Instead, he said, Pennsylvania favors nudging its school systems toward cooperation.
A version of this article appeared in the May 19, 1999 edition of Education Week as Technology Experts Stress Need for Teacher Training