A Wake-Up Call for Ed Tech

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There is a lot of talk about trends these days. While it is interesting to hear of trends, what is important is to influence them through affecting their component mini-trends and events where possible. If enough people act on enough events, ultimately major trends can be influenced. But the events and mini-trends need to be identified in time to allow for action. This means, in short: Pay Attention!

To illustrate, let me point to two items: the proposed federal technology budgets from the House and Senate, and a press release from the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA). In the federal budget, there is the Educational Technology Block Grant and there are four smaller programs: Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to Use Technology (PT3), Star Schools, Community Technology Centers and State Data Program, which is new for 2004. The Ed Tech Block program is budgeted at approximately $695 million in both the House and the Senate — about the same as last year, but with a $5 million decrease from 2002 funding. The other four programs are eliminated in the House version. In the Senate, $80 million is provided for the new State Data Program, while the PT3 grants are zer'ed out and the other two programs are slated for cuts.

At the state level, SETDA did a survey of all the state directors of educational technology and found that state budget cuts averaged about $3.5 million per state in educational technology. In addition, more than half of the states responding to the SETDA survey reduced their staff members by an average of two. Given the variability of state sizes, averages really do not tell us much since a state's staff can range from one to 50 staffers (with a median of six); however, cutting two people in most states is a large change. On top of cuts, some directors are getting additional responsibilities. Suffice it to say that services, technical assistance and, most important, leadership will be diminished at the state level.

Why did this happen? The easy answer is state budget shortfalls, but I believe it is also because most of us were not paying attention. We didn't have connections with our legislators letting them know how important technology was to us in the schools. We didn't bother to look at the appropriations bills when they first came out nor did we call our legislators when we saw cuts. In many states, our professional organizations were not paying attention and didn't attempt to rally the tech coordinators and teachers until it was too late.

ISTE and CoSN, however, are paying attention. They are forming an Ed Tech Action Network that will include an interactive Web site, advocacy training and other efforts to help educators plug into and influence federal and state policy. It is now almost cliché to point out that the symbol for crisis in the Chinese language is made up of the symbols of two words: danger and opportunity. In order to take advantage of the current opportunities, we must pay attention and take immediate action to inform policy-makers about the significance of technology's role in education and how it affects our students.

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.

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