ATTAIN: The Means for a Mandate

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Have you ever wondered what the "THE" in THE Journal means? Occasionally? Even fleetingly? No? Well, I'll tell you anyway. It stands for "Technological Horizons in Education." Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, does it? Hence the acronym. But that aside, what it indicates is that we take as our premise that technology is inherently beneficial to education--that it can make the lives of educators easier, that it can facilitate learning, and that it can, when approached the right way, stimulate new ideas about learning and the teaching process. (And, as a side benefit, it happens to keep all of you IT folk off the streets.)

For us, this is a given. Education technology, like anything innovative, will lead us in directions we can't even imagine yet. Technology is like pure science in that respect: You create it or implement it, and somebody, somewhere, is going to come up with a breakthrough idea for how to use it to enrich our lives and provide new opportunities with which the next generation can thrive.

But the success of technology in education depends heavily on three factors:

  1. Thoughtful technology choices;
  2. Proper implementation;
  3. And technology leadership to ensure that teachers and students understand the tools available to them and understand at least some of the ways in which those tools can be used to improve teaching and learning.

You and I could probably exchange thousands of examples of how technology has not been implemented or led correctly, how some schools seem simply to be playing catchup with state or district technology requirements. Some schools fulfill technology requirements by teaching typing, as if the whole point of computers in schools were to train the next generation of secretaries. Some schools have a computer lab and require students to create a PowerPoint presentation once a semester. Some simply shift activities that were once done on paper over to electronic media.

But all of these approaches are reductionist in nature and show a lack of vision and leadership and, in some part, a lack of preparedness on the part of teachers to deal with technologies introduced into schools.

But what can be done?

We've seen both the successes and failures of technology in education. We here at THE Journal cover the successes quite often in case studies and news reports. And we use our stable of experts to provide tips and techniques for making the most of technologies available.

But we've also seen some highly publicized failures, in particular the United States Department of Education study released back in March that showed virtually no improvement in student achievement in schools using technology specifically for the purpose of improving student achievement.

But there was something decidedly wrong with that study. The problem was explicit in the data. And it was that those who were using the technologies involved in the study had virtually no training in and no prior experience with those technologies. Teachers expressed a certain level of comfort with the tools in which they were trained, but that comfort level dropped once the teaching actually began.

And the implications were clear: If we're going to mandate technology in education, we need to make sure that teachers and students are at least prepared to use it.

To this end, a couple weeks ago legislators introduced a bill to the U.S. House of Representatives called ATTAIN (Achievement Through Technology and Innovation). What it seeks to do is to revamp Part D of title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to enhance professional development for teachers, improve technical proficiency in students, and otherwise support technology in various ways to advance student achievement.

The bill, introduced by U.S. Representatives Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX), Judy Biggert (R-IL), and Ron Kind (D-WI), states, "Increased professional development opportunities are needed if teachers are to be highly qualified and effective in a 21st century classroom with today’s digital native students, including in the use of learning technologies to deliver innovative instruction and curriculum and to use data to inform instruction."

ATTAIN was not developed in a vacuum, but with input from major ed tech and other industry trade groups, including CoSN, SETDA, and ISTE. It does not simply put out new technology mandates for districts to try to fulfill on their own. It puts forward the means by which schools and districts can attain the achievement and technology mandates that are already in place, especially those in NCLB.

And it does this by allocating $1 billion to support the following (cited from the bill itself):

  1. To improve student academic achievement on State academic standards through the use of professional development, research-based and innovative systemic school reforms, and other technology uses and applications.
  2. To improve teacher professional development to ensure every teacher and administrator is technologically literate, including possessing the knowledge and skills to use technology across the curriculum, to use technology and curriculum redesign as key components of changing teaching and learning and improving student achievement, to use technology for data analysis to enable individualized instruction, and to use technology to improve student technology literacy.
  3. To ensure that every student is technologically literate by graduation, regardless of the student’s race, ethnicity, gender, family income, geographic location, or disability.
  4. To improve student engagement, opportunity, attendance, graduation rates, and technology access through enhanced or redesigned curriculum or instruction.
  5. To more effectively use data to inform instruction, address individualized student needs, and support school decision making.
  6. To improve the efficiency and productivity of the classroom and school enterprise toward the ultimate purposes of improving student achievement.

It's our position that this bill is an excellent solution to some of the problems schools face in the implementation of technology. And we urge all of our readers to support this bill by writing to legislators and contacting your association representatives to lobby on its behalf. We simply can't keep throwing new technology requirements at teachers and expect them to grasp (or even want to grasp) the benefits of technology.

But through the funds provided by ATTAIN, we can begin the process of bringing teachers and students into a technology-driven world and provide the means to get them looking up from their keyboards and toward the technological horizons toward which education is heading.

Hey, and as a side benefit, it just might keep you IT guys off the streets for another few years.

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About the author: Dave Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's educational technology online publications and electronic newsletters. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com.

Have any additional questions? Want to share your story? Want to pass along a news tip? Contact Dave Nagel, executive editor, at dnagel@1105media.com.

About the Author

David Nagel is the executive producer for 1105 Media's online K-12 and higher education publications and electronic newsletters. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com. He can now be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/THEJournalDave (K-12) or http://twitter.com/CampusTechDave (higher education). You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=10390192.

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