The Power In a Story

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Dr. Geoffrey H. Fletcher, Editor-at-LargeFor the second year running, SETDA members tell T.H.E. readershow they use technology effectively in their states and districts.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education approved its version of the fiscal year 2006 appropriations bill on June 9. This is noteworthy for T.H.E. Journal readers for a number of reasons:

  1. The subcommittee restored funding for most of the 48 education programs that theBush administration had proposed cutting.
  2. The subcommittee chose to reduce the administration’s request for increasedfunding for Title I, special-education grants, and a high school reform initiative.
  3. The subcommittee included $300 million for the Title II D: Enhancing EducationThrough Technology (EETT) program of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Thisis a $196 million cut from FY2005, on top of the nearly $200 million cut from FY2004,but it is better than the $0 proposal from the Bush administration.

As we go to press, we have learned that the House Appropriations Committee includedthe $300 million for EETT in its “marked up” appropriations bill. It is possible that by thetime you read this column, the appropriations bill will have passed through the full USHouse. The Senate is just beginning its efforts in this arena, but it looks as though there willbe a large difference between the House and Senate subcommittees’ versions of appropriations.Congress probably will not reach an agreement about final funding until late fall.

This sets up an interesting confrontation between the White House and Congress onpriorities for the future of education, from the federal perspective. (Keep in mind: thefederal government provides less than 10 percent of all funding to education.) The insertionof $300 million for EETT in the House Subcommittee’s version provides hope for those ofus in technology who feel that if NCLB is going to demand technology literacy for all eighth gradestudents and require that technology be integrated throughout all of curriculum andinstruction by Dec. 31, 2006 — both of which are admirable goals — then the federal governmentshould pay for what it takes to accomplish those goals. The potential funding also isanother step in the growth and maturation of the State Educational Technology DirectorsAssociation (SETDA), our partner in the creation of this issue and last year’s July issue.

The Formation of SETDA

One hot summer week in Albany, NY, in the early 1980s, a small group of state bureaucratsgathered in an unairconditioned hotel to talk about what they were doing with technology intheir respective states. People were just beginning to think about how microcomputers couldbe used in schools, and the term “computer literacy” was being bandied about. At this time,few states had dedicated funds for technology, and the federal government had only a littlemoney for instructional television and a few other small, scattered educational grantprograms. This cabal would meet occasionally every 18 to 36 months, with little organizationor structure and little purpose other than networking.

Fast forward to 2005. The loosely organized cabal is now a tight-knit professionalorganization known as SETDA, which has matured just as the use of technology has grownthroughout education. One of SETDA’s primary purposes now is to provide networkingopportunities for its members. The organization also supports its members through suchactivities as creating tools and products to help state directors better serve their districts.

In the last six months, SETDA has been working with professional organizations suchas ISTE, CoSN, and SIIA to educate members of Congress about the importance offunding the EETT section of NCLB in two ways: 1) by explaining how crucial the fundingis for states and districts, and 2) possibly more important, by showing members of Congress real examples, backed by research, of how technology is affecting education.One thing we in education and technology have not done well is to show, by more thananecdotal evidence, what impact technology has on students’ learning and upon the effectivenessand efficiency of running a school district or a state. Many of us—whether we aredistrict technology coordinators, CIOs, or state department staff—have been called uponto answer the question: D'es technology work? I believe this is the wrong question to ask.A more appropriate question would be: Under what conditions can technology______?(Fill in the blank.) Together, this issue and SETDA’s testimony in Congress begin to answerthat question.

Sharing Technology Success Stories

For this special July issue, T.H.E. Journal worked with SETDA to identify areas importantto our readers and, not surprisingly, important to members of Congress and state legislators.The focus may seem overly NCLB-centric to some, but our collective sense was thatthese were the top-of-mind topics for educators who work with technology:

  • Using technology to close the achievement gap
  • Using technology to create and support highly qualified teachers
  • Using data systems to address adequate yearly progress (AYP)

We then selected states that were making powerful strides in each of these areas, andasked them to describe what they did, as well as the results of their efforts. We also askedthem to identify a school district in their state that was making similar efforts andreceiving similar results. As you will read, these success stories involve much more than“throwing technology at a problem,” as a state legislator once said to me with a sneer.Technology is part of a much larger solution that always includes in-depth professionaldevelopment for all educators involved in the program.

For example, the eMINTS (enhancing Missouri’s Instructional Networked TeachingStrategies) program involves multimedia technology integrated into student-centered,inquiry-based teaching practices. The professional development changing the instructionalstrategy from one that is teacher-centered to one that is student-centered is at least asimportant as the use of technology. The results from Missouri’s statewide studies, as well asthose from St. Louis, clearly show the effectiveness of a fully implemented program.

These stories, and others from Nevada, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Vermont, as well as from other states and districtsnationwide, clearly demonstrate how effective technology can be in education. They alsoshow the importance of the EETT program, as this funding plays a vital role in all of theSEDTA stories.

The budget battles in Congress will not be completed until the fall, which gives all of usplenty of time to tell our stories to our senators and representatives in Congress and at thestate level. Nothing is more powerful to a legislator than hearing from a constituent with apositive story to tell. So, take a few moments to tell your story, and have your students telltheir stories. It can make a big difference—maybe a $300 million difference.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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