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No Child Left Behind, Version 2.0

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The incoming Congress will take up the reauthorization of NCLB. Here are a few ideas that deserve consideration if the law gets updated.

Policy & AdvocacyAS THE LAME-DUCK 109th Congress struggles with trying to pass legislation before time runs out in this session, the newly elected members of the House and Senate are wrestling with trying to find their parking places and learn about franking privileges. Meanwhile, every segment of Americansociety is wondering how the new Congress will affect it.

The education and technology sector is no different. President Bush has recommended zeroing out Title II-D of No Child Left Behind, Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT), and the outgoing House is following his lead. The Senate still has $275 million in its ed tech budget. While a change in congressional leadership may be good for the ed tech industry— things can’t get much worse—a Senate staffer has warned that there will not be a lot of new money in whatever budget may be crafted by the new Congress.

One message that seems to be coming forth consistently is that the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act will be taken up on schedule during the 110th Congress. Indicating the seriousness of their intentions, legislators are beginning to set up field hearings (outside the Beltway) on NCLB. They are looking to gather ideas about what is working well with the law, what is not working, and what needs to be amended.

There is speculation that the current configuration of Title II-D may not survive reauthorization. The lack of support for EETT may be due to the difficulty in explaining what it is and what it is intended to accomplish. Most people I talk to agree that technology needs to be a part of the new iteration of NCLB, but in what form is unclear. It may be a component of a high school reform section, or part of an initiative on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Or it could be included in every section of an updated bill. If I get to attend a field hearing, I’d like to pitch the following ideas that I believe could help the technology and education world, and I hope would find a receptive ear with at least some members of Congress.

  1. Support proven models of technology implementation. One thing we know from research is that certain elements must be in place before technology can be successfully implemented. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has its signature 10 “essential conditions.” Some states have spelled out their own essential conditions. One model that incorporates the vast majority of these essential conditions—particularly the ubiquitous need for professional development—is the campus technology coach. While different iterations are being implemented around the country, at least five states—Missouri and Utah via the Enhancing Missouri’s Instructional Networked Teaching Strategies (eMINTS) program, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina—are adopting the campus technology coach on a large scale and doing research on its effectiveness. As this model is proving, ongoing, sustainable professional development is the key to successful implementation of any innovation—including integrating technology.
  2. Provide research. We should soon see published results on the first round of the federal government’s research into the effective use of technology, funded in 2003-04. (For a summary of the federal research efforts in technology and education, see “Making the Case: Research Efforts on Educational Technology”.) We need this research to continue. This is an important role for the feds, and one that no other entity can fulfill as well.
  3. Make effective use of data. The importance of the use of data throughout the entire educational enterprise has been touted for decades, but only with the advent of extensive installations of technology have we seen data’s real power. However, for the data to be useful, some conditions need to be satisfied—the Data Quality Campaign (DQC), with the support of numerous organizations, has outlined them. Some EETT money has gone into creating and supporting data gathering, transporting, and aggregation. The government should create a separate funding stream for these efforts and should work with the DQC to help ensure that efforts made by states and districts are not duplicative, and that data sent to the federal government is consistent and of real value.
  4. Institute a “technology tax” throughout the bill. So maybe this is not the best terminology to use, but the concept takes a page from the charge-back system that many state agencies and school districts use. The way a charge-back system works, a department is charged for using a service that is provided by the district. For example, every department of a school district— transportation, food service, the business office, as well as classrooms—has computers, uses the district network, asks for technical support, and receives training when a new program is introduced. Some districts budget for this by having it all included as overhead. Others, however, make each department pay for its hardware and pay a fee for the services it receives from the technology department. Thus, for example, a share of the network costs is charged to transportation, a share is charged to the business office, and so on.

Apply this concept to No Child Left Behind. What if a fee or percentage of each NCLB program was set aside for technology infrastructure? It’s fair to say that every NCLB program instituted in a school district uses that district’s infrastructure. How about if each program pays a small amount—1 to 5 percent—into a technology pool to support the maintenance and growth of technology services?

Finally, all these efforts need funding. One important byproduct of EETT has been the ability of states to leverage funding for the program to support state initiatives. For example, money for development of the “Texas Long-Range Plan for Technology” (see Commentary, page 6 of our magazine) came from EETT. A few thousand dollars in federal funds can result in hundreds of millions in state technology money. However, sufficent funding is needed for any federal program, and must be consistent in order to be a catalyst for change in education. Lately, I’ve heard a compelling mantra coming from technology directors at all levels: Vision without resources is hallucination.

Geoffrey H. Fletcher is editorial director of T.H.E. Journal and executive director of T.H.E. Institute.

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2006 issue of THE Journal.

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