Why We’re Better Off Without EETT

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Jon Bower, CEO, Lexia Learning Systems Inc.The proposed 2006 federal budget has been criticized by many in the education and technologycommunities for zeroing out the primary federal funding source for education technology: the Enhancing EducationThrough Technology (EETT) state blockgrant program. I say we are better off without it. Here is why.

For many years, those of us who work in the education technology field have been aware that much of the money fromEETT and state programs is misspent. The largest problem has been the overemphasis on hardware. In industry, the ruleof thumb for technology investments is a third for hardware, a third for software, and a third for training and support. Agood 80-85% of education technology funding has been spent on hardware and wiring over the years, leaving only15-20% for software, training, and the vital support of hardware and applications. The result has been school labs fullof machines that cannot run software on their networks, and children learning Microsoft Paint as an educational activity.

Block grants also distort the buying process because schools have to spend the money they receive during the same yearthey are given the funding. Therefore, schools look for systems within their means rather than looking for systemsthat address specific educational needs or that enhance instructional activities at the lowest cost. Over the years, I have seendozens of bids won by the more expensive system simply because it used up all of the money that had to be spent by a school.

The other problem is much more subtle. Technology is supposed to enhance the educational process.Proponents claim that assessment software enhances instruction by providing better data to teachers so they can fine-tunetheir lesson plans. Some argue that skill-development software allows students to acquire crucial reading andmath skills faster than they would if they only participated in traditional classroom activities and used workbooks. Advocatessay multimedia curricula do a better job of engaging students and motivating them to think more deeply about thecontent. Many believe that administrative software saves money by streamlining administrative tasks. Well, if any of thoseclaims are true, then why do we need dedicated block grants to convince schools to buy these wonderful programs.

I think it is time for education technology to stand on its own against traditional materials. If it is better, knowledgeableeducators will buy it. If it is cheaper, smart administrators will buy it. And if it isn’t better or cheaper, then they shouldn’tbe investing in it.

I believe the benefits of good education technology are better than traditional teaching materials. I have seenstudies indicating that teachers who use computer-based assessments require a third as much time per student to administera reading assessment, generate a report and decide on an instructional approach as teachers using a paper testand stopwatch. I have seen other studies that show students who use skill-development software for reading outperformtheir peers in control groups, often by 10 percentage points on standardized tests. I have read papers submitted bystudents who went on virtual expeditions that demonstrated an in-depth understanding of science far beyond myexpectations. I think technology will win if we let it, but we have to let go of our dedicated technology budgets for thecomparison to be made.

EETT and state technology funding programs ensure that administrators will continue to buy hardware and networksfor their schools. But it d'esn’t do the education technology industry, or the students, any good if those resources arepoorly utilized. Maybe 10 or 15 years ago, when computers were new to schools, it made sense to allocate special funds fortheir purchase on an experimental basis. However, now we have computers and Internet connections in every school. It’stime to let educators choose the best tools for their students — whether they run on silicon or use petrochemical ink dotson mashed tree pulp as an information delivery medium.

Let the block grants go. And let every curriculum decision include the relevant traditional and technology alternatives.Only then will education technology find its proper place in our schools.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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