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The Future of Wireless and Title II D

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My local school district in Vashon Island, Wash., is looking in detail at all of its facilities to try and determine how much money it needs to raise for a bond issue. It is my good fortune to serve on a Campus Master Planning Committee along with other citizens and educators. Our task is to take all the information garnered from various community forums, meetings with teachers and students, site visits, as well as from our own knowledge about education and the community. Then, create a few scenarios with different combinations of new and/or remodeled buildings for the district and submit those options to the school board and the community. At the end of this process, we will then make a final recommendation to the school board.

At one of the community forums, a citizen noted that he recently had gone back to his law school for the first time in a number of years. In taking a tour of the building, he was pleased to see all of the outlets and jacks for connecting laptops to both the law school’s local area network and the Internet. In watching a class in action, however, he was dismayed to see that none of the outlets or jacks were being used. This was because with sufficient battery life and wireless connections, the students did not need the outlets or jacks. Our lawyer/citizen asked how the district was going to ensure it would not waste money the same way the law school had in spending on capabilities that were not used. As a member of the technology subcommittee, I busied myself taking notes, hoping that the question would be viewed as rhetorical.

It is a great question: When will certain technologies make a significant leap and not only leave others behind, but significantly change computing or the educational experience? I don’t mean just a faster, lighter or slightly smaller computer. Nor, at the other end of the change spectrum, do I think we will have the equivalent of a spreadsheet, Internet or similar revolutionary change. Somewhere in between these extremes of minor change and revolution I think we will see breakthroughs, with wireless computing being a large part of that technological evolution. That is why “wireless” is this month’s theme, and why it will be a part of future themes as well. The growing ubiquity and increasing applications of wireless are why we also have a special section on VoIP (Voice-over Internet Protocol) this month. Colleges, universities, school districts - and even T.H.E. Journal’s office - are looking at whether or not VoIP is a feasible option at this time.

I realize that I violated the tenet that futurists are not supposed to predict the future; instead, they are supposed to describe possible, probable and preferable futures. Saying that wireless will be a part of the evolution of technologies in schools is so probable that it sounds like a prediction. When looking at federal funding for technology, however, it is hard to come up with anything past possible futures.

Time Is of the Essence

My last two editorials, “Fighting the War on Ed Tech Funding” and “No More Excuses - Children’s Lives Are At Stake,” were concerned in some ways with federal funding for technology. As you know by now, the president’s proposed budget calls for cutting the entire amount in Title II D, the technology component of NCLB. That means no money for state grants to local districts, as well as no support to states for carrying out mandates for technology in NCLB such as ensuring that all students are technologically literate by the end of the eighth grade and that technology is integrated throughout all of curriculum and instruction by Dec. 31, 2006. The rationale for the cut is as follows (from the U.S. D'E’s Web site at www.ed.gov/about/overview/budget/budget06/summary/edlite-section3.html ):

“This program provides funding to states and school districts to support the integration of educational technology into classroom instruction, technology deployment, and a host of other activities designed to utilize technology to improve instruction and student learning. Schools today offer a greater level of technology infrastructure than just a few years ago, and there is no longer a significant need for a state formula grant program targeted specifically on (and limited to) the effective integration of technology into schools and classrooms. Districts seeking funds to integrate technology into teaching and learning can use other federal program funds. …”

Remember that this is the president’s proposed budget; the House and the Senate will propose their own separate versions of the budget. We need to inform our senators and representatives about how important technology is in the teaching and learning process by providing specific examples. In my January editorial, I provided some challenges to educators that describe simple, yet effective, ways to do this. Another approach is to describe what you will not be able to do if this funding is eliminated. It is critical that school districts with representatives and senators on appropriations committees contact their correct senators and representatives. To find out who these members are in the House, go to http://appropriations.house.gov, click on “Subcommittees,” then on “Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies.” For the Senate, go to http://appropriations.senate.gov and follow the same links as noted above.

Educational companies may not feel comfortable lobbying members of Congress directly, as it may seem self-serving. Another approach is to encourage your clients, especially those who were planning on using Title II D funds to purchase your product, to contact their senators and representatives. We have some time to do this, but not a lot. The House-Senate conference committee report on the 2005 budget, which cut $200 million out of Title II D, was approved in November. We cannot wait, and the students in our charge cannot wait. Make your voice heard, and help your students make their voices heard.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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