Making Sense of NCLB's Technology Component

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\par Last month marked the year anniversary of President Bush's signing of the No Child Left Behind Act \f1\emdash the bill that radically changed the federal government's role in education. It is not for this column to explore the various controversies, some of which are still emerging, of this bill. Larger issues such as the appropriate role of the federal government in education, the appropriate role of various types of assessments, a working definition of scientifically based research, and the bill's incredibly "ambitious" timeline are all being argued throughout the education community, as well as in the general public. This column will focus on the technology component of the bill, Part D of Title II, "Enhancing Education Through Technology."

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\par This section of the bill calls for states to submit to the Education Department an application addressing 15 topics related to how they will use their technology money. Aside from a very small percentage that states can keep to administer the bill and provide technical assistance, 50% must go to applicant Title I schools through subgrants, while the rest can go to other applicant school districts through subgrants. The school district applications must address at least a dozen topics as described in NCLB. In addition, the bill calls for national technology activities, including a long-term study on technology in education and the creation of a national education technology plan.

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\par Based on helpful and open conversations with state technology leaders, attendees at the National Leadership Institute last December, and staff from the Education Department who are knowledgeable about the NCLB bill, the following are some very unscientifically arrived at observations:

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\par Plans

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  • Nearly all states are revising or updating old technology plans as the basis for their applications. Only four states have indicated that they are creating entirely new plans. For example, Connecticut is working with other parts of its state government to produce an umbrella plan (watch for it at www.state.ct.us/sde/dsi/technology/technology.htm).
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  • A few states are using outside groups or a highly inclusive process to develop their plans, but most are completing them in-house as rapidly as possible to become eligible to flow the money to their schools. For example, West Virginia incorporated input and data from a wide range of stakeholders as they developed their plan (online at http://access.k12.wv.us/techplan/stateplan.htm).
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  • Most plans have the requisite goals, objectives and indicators; but there is a noticeable lack of measurement instruments to assess these.
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  • Most plans now call for a yearly updating and revision, as opposed to a three- or five-year revision cycle.
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\par Trends

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  • Many states are now defining standards for what students and teachers should know and be able to do regarding technology. Nearly all states are basing their standards on the International Society for Technology in Education standards, or at least using the ISTE standards as a starting point. These standards, however, are not being tested in most states, and they certainly are not addressed as part of the accountability system required by NCLB in any state.
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  • Most plans have moved beyond access to technology as a focus to addressing how technology can be used in the teaching and learning process; though integration is the preferred approach.
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  • States have to describe how they will "work to ensure that teachers and principals ... are technologically literate."
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\par While the law is explicit regarding what states and districts have to address in their funds applications, John Bailey, the U.S. Education Department's director of educational technology, and staff associated with this part of NCLB, have encouraged states to focus on what their schools need and fit that into the requirements. This emphasis on flexibility is difficult for many of the state people who are usually called on to implement and enforce state and federal laws and rules. Thinking creatively and flexibly will take time, as will encouraging districts to do the same. Unfortunately, the timeline stated in the bill is daunting, especially the date of Dec. 31, 2006, which is the deadline for states to ensure "technology will be fully integrated into the curricula and instruction of the schools." As one of the commissioners of education I used to work for would say, "Good luck to ya."

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This article originally appeared in the 02/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.

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