Sharing State, District Best Practices

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I am a recovering bureaucrat. It is a long process, not without backsliding. However, I learned a lot during my 11 years as a bureaucrat, including how to write rules and regulations, as well as some law. More important, I learned how to help educators interpret rules, regulations and law so that they could do the best thing for their students. I learned that what may work in a suburban district outside of Houston, may not necessarily work in other Texas cities. Alternatives and flexibility become important considerations; not quite the stereotype of rule-bound bureaucracies. One of my roles as a bureaucrat was as a state technology director, which is a hard job. It's a challenge advocating for something - technology in education - that is expensive; difficult to explain; relatively new; yet another responsibility for teachers; and, in many minds, not totally proven to have a positive impact.

All the state educational technology directors have these positive bureaucratic skills, partially due to their association with the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA). I wish I would've had SETDA around when I was a bureaucrat, because I often needed to talk with people who were wrestling with the same issues I was. I needed to learn how they dealt with state purchasing or other state agencies, and how they were able to get funding for technology. I needed others to work with to advocate for federal legislation. SETDA provides these networking opportunities and much more.

Similar Concerns and Different Approaches

State educational technology directors are key players in the world of education technology, and that is why we are proud to work with them to provide this special issue of T.H.E. Journal. Together, we selected four key topics related to technology and education, and SETDA selected states that were doing important work in those issue areas to write articles. Each state, in turn, asked a district to write an article about the topic. The result provides both state and district perspectives on a key issue in technology and education. Also, in keeping with our commitment to add value with extra online content, many of these articles (more than a dozen) appear on our Web site, www.thejournal.com. So be sure to read those articles on the Web as well as the selected few in this issue.

SETDA members are struggling with concerns similar to what technology directors of two decades ago had, yet the context is very different, especially with No Child Left Behind (NCLB). This special issue of T.H.E. Journal focuses on four key concerns:

1. Technology Integration. NCLB requires states to show how technology will be integrated throughout all of their curriculum and instruction by Dec. 31, 2006. It is up to the states to figure out how they will do that, and in this issue we see very different approaches explored in Maine, Massachusetts and Texas.

2. Professional Development. Ensuring that all educators are able to use technology effectively throughout curriculum and instruction is no small task. NCLB requires that at least 25% of technology funds be spent on professional development, but that is nowhere near enough to scale significant programs for all educators. North Carolina and Tennessee are targeting a similar model but taking different approaches in getting there.

3. Data-Driven Decision-Making. Using data to make decisions is important on both the state and local levels. Before you can do that, however, you need to have an infrastructure in place to define the data, gather it, aggregate it, analyze it, disseminate it, and use it. States are in varying stages of creating this infrastructure and using it as we see in articles from Virginia, Idaho and South Dakota.

4. Leadership & Advocacy. Effective advocacy for technology in education can take many forms at both the state and local levels. It is critically important to have an advocacy mechanism in place and to learn about what has worked, especially in a time when state budgets are squeezed and state departments of education, including technology departments, are cutting personnel. Pennsylvania, Illinois and West Virginia have much to share because all three states have shown significant leadership.

Making Progress

From 1985 through 1996, state technology directors such as myself struggled with similar issues, but enormous progress has been made since then. Technology integration was truly innovative, as most states and districts were concerned with getting technology into the schools in any way they could. Many states took the computer literacy approach to establish a beachhead. In hindsight, this may have stalled technology integration, but it did create a critical mass of technology and teachers who understood using technology with kids. Like today, professional development received a lot of lip service; however, the focus back then was on learning how to use a computer and some of the key software.

Today, most educators can use computers and are looking at ways students can use them to learn. Less than two decades ago, only a handful of states had a statewide data system and few educators looked at any data for instructional decision-making, partially because everything was on paper. There was, however, no lack of leadership during that time. From the first statewide network for educators in Florida, the Florida Information Resource Network (FIRN), to the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC) to the first comprehensive state technology plan in Texas, legislators, bureaucrats, educators and members of the private sector took risks. They also spent time and money getting technology into the hands of kids and teachers. It did not all work, but we learned and we shared.

That is why it is so important to have SETDA, especially in these times of tight budgets. Sharing, learning and working together can accelerate the effective use of technology in education. That is why we exist at T.H.E. Journal, and why we are proud to bring you this issue featuring best practices from states and districts. We also look forward to providing updates from these states and districts in future issues.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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