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Maryland Strives to Improve Student Learning

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Maryland’s public schools have been making tremendous gains in establishing a strong technology infrastructure. Just six years ago, the student-to-computer ratio in the state was 16-to-1. Today, that ratio has been reduced to five students for every computer. In addition, Internet access is now available in 82% of classrooms in Maryland, compared to 23% in 1995. This commitment to infrastructure improvement seems unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, because technology is constantly changing; and ongoing costs, such as computer and software upgrades and connectivity fees, are unavoidable. Therefore, technology funding continues to be viewed not only as a one-time capital investment, but also as an annual operational expense.

As a result, infrastructure upgrades still account for half of the $196 million in annual expenditures recommended in the state’s technology plan. The plan allocates more than $44 million annually to the purchase of additional computers, upgraded file servers, network gear and software packages. It also allots another $55 million to connectivity fees and improved technical support. But, while Maryland has made a tremendous investment in infrastructure, its overarching goal continues to be improving student learning in core educational areas, as well as in the technological knowledge and skills that are critical to a student’s ability to function in today’s technology-dependent society.

Learning Opportunities

The real purpose of public education has never been to prepare students for the classroom, but for the world beyond it. When today’s students graduate into the working world, they will be expected to know how to use technology to handle complex tasks. Similarly, universal access to technology and digital content is of little value if teachers are not fully prepared to utilize it in their classroom instruction. And while much progress has been made on basic technology skills, significant professional development is still required if technology is to be seamlessly integrated into the curriculum of Maryland’s public schools.

Teachers must have the necessary training to effectively use technology to engage and motivate students to become independent, creative thinkers, as well as effective communicators and problem solvers. We must determine how we can maximize the full benefits that technology has to offer; we cannot come to regard technology as an end in itself. As a result, while Maryland continues to support infrastructure upgrades and improvements, it has begun to shift its emphasis somewhat to the variety of learning opportunities technology provides.

New Technology Plan

A survey released in spring 2002 by the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education (MBRT) — a coalition of more than 120 Maryland companies that have made a long-term commitment to support education reform and improve student achievement in Maryland — indicates that the state’s schools are not taking full advantage of technology’s power. According to the survey, 14% of Maryland’s public schools report that their students typically use technology to analyze data or information, while 12% say their students use technology on a regular basis to perform measurements or to collect data in lab experiments.

The statistics are even worse in high-poverty schools, where the survey shows that nearly 52% of students never use technology to analyze data. In high-poverty schools, 62% report that they also never use technology for measurements or to gather data. In fact, students from wealthier communities are two to three times more likely to use technology for more complex tasks than students from high-poverty schools.

The good news, according to the MBRT survey, is that teachers’ knowledge and skills, with respect to technology, continue to rise with nearly 90% of teachers saying that they are comfortable using the Internet today, compared to 53% in 1997. Similarly, most teachers now report they use technology regularly to improve their own efficiency and productivity. To help teachers become even more proficient in using technology to help students meet rigorous academic standards, Maryland’s new technology plan — adopted last March by the State Board of Education — recommends a number of specific actions, including:

· Development of online tools that will allow teachers to assess their own technology skills;

· Alignment of teacher preparation curricula with Maryland Teacher Technology Standards; and

· Online access to technology-infused lesson plans and digital content.

The plan also calls for more than $40 million annually to be allocated over the next three years for professional development in technology use. Another $24.9 million annually is recommended for integrating digital content into classroom instruction. By 2004, recommendations for assessing technology-related knowledge and skills through the state testing programs are to be developed as well.

All of this proves that the next decade of school reform will focus on the critical role that technology will play in each classroom and in the success of each student. Every local school system, school and instructional program must be in a position to provide students with meaningful, engaging and complex tasks that involve technology. Doing so will let educators close the gaps now that will otherwise close the doors to students in the future.

June E. Streckfus
(june@mbrt.org)

Contact Information
Maryland Business Roundtable for Education
Baltimore, MD
(410) 727-0448
www.mbrt.org

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2002 issue of THE Journal.

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