Q&A: Ruben Lopez, Florida's Chief Technology Officer


Earlier this year T.H.E. journal had the opportunity to ask Florida's Chief Technology Officer Ruben Lopez a few questions about how Florida is dealing with the the No Child Left Behind Act.

T.H.E. Journal : In general, how has the No Child Left Behind Act affected Florida schools?

Ruben: The NCLB Act has heightened awareness among many school and district personnel about the need to be diligent and committed to improving the performance of their instructional programs. It is clear that researching and promoting the most effective methods for integrating technology into day-to-day classroom instruction will be an important component of this ongoing effort. Requiring intensive, sustained and high-quality professional development for teachers is a key concept of the NCLB legislation, and is prompting school districts to ramp up their planning efforts in this area. ... Providing teachers with real opportunities to advance their knowledge of modern technology-based learning tools and the most effective teaching methods will positively impact schools in Florida.

T.H.E. : What materials are available, or will be made available, in Florida to help teachers teach and students learn the standards set by NCLB.

Ruben: We have developed a School Technology and Readiness (STaR) Chart for Florida schools. The Florida STaR Chart, which was modeled after the CEO Forum on Education & Technology's STaR Chart, will serve as a guide for school progress in education technology. The Florida STaR Chart addresses the areas of technology administration and support, technology capacity, educator competency and professional development, learners and learning, and accountability.

The Bureau of Educational Technology (BET) has recommended that districts use the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) for students as the model for the development of district technology standards. In addition, we anticipate including NETS-aligned standards for technology in the revision of the Sunshine State Standards. ...

The 2003 Instructional Materials Adoption will include K-5 computer education and 6-12 computer/business technology programs. Adoptions in both areas will support the goals of No Child Left Behind by providing quality teaching and learning materials that integrate technology and curriculum.

T.H.E. : What is Florida doing to improve its teachers' abilities to integrate technology throughout all subject areas to meet NCLB's 2006 deadline?

Ruben: Florida is strongly encouraging all school districts to establish technology integration training as a significant priority within their long-range local educational technology plans. A project has also been established at the University of South Florida to provide schools with direct technical assistance in the area of technology integration. NCLB's Enhancing Education Through Technology grant program funds are being awarded to support research-based technology integration initiatives involving targeted school sites. BET staff provide ongoing technical assistance, guidance and support to school and district staff who are responsible for implementing these initiatives.

T.H.E. : How do you think Florida compares to the rest of the country as far as bridging the digital divide, getting technology into every classroom and other related education technology related issues?

Lopez: Florida is focused on bridging the digital divide within the state. Based on reports from The Children's Partnership (www.childrenspartnership.org), 9% (289,000) of Florida's children do not have a phone at home, placing Florida 38th among states. In comparison, California ranks 30th, Texas is 37th and North Carolina is 40th. The national average for households not owning a computer is 43%; 44% of Florida households do not own a computer. The Digital Divide Council (www.digitaldividecouncil.com), an advisory group created by Florida Statute in July 2001, is composed of legislators, agency technology heads and private-sector leaders. They created the Digital Divide Council Clearinghouse to serve as a comprehensive resource tool for identifying digital divide efforts in Florida and best practices in other states. Public and private sector businesses, community organizations, government agencies, schools and colleges can then replicate the ideas and solutions that have been proven successful. The Clearinghouse will also help facilitate the donation and receipt of computers toward this effort. For example:

  • Computers in the classroom - Florida was ahead of the national average for the numbers of computers in the classroom in the 2001 report by Education Week on the Web. At that time, the national average for students per instructional computer was 4.9; Florida's average was 4.2. The difference between the national and Florida averages in high-poverty and high-minority enrollment schools was even greater: national averages were 5.3 and 5.5, whereas Florida averaged 4.2 and 4.6, respectively.
  • State funding for technology - In recent years, the state legislature has appropriated Public School Technology Funds for all school districts. In 2002, a total of $62.4 million was provided for the enhancement of educational technology statewide.
  • E-learning - The Florida Virtual School debuted in 1996 and was the first online school. In recent years more and more schools have come online; many using the Florida Virtual School as a model. Today, the enrollment at Florida Virtual School is close to 12,000 students. Every student in Florida has the opportunity to enroll in classes not previously offered at their school, including business, computer sciences and advanced placement courses.

T.H.E. : D'es Florida have standards for technology as far as what students and teachers should know and be able to do? If so, what is the extent to which achievement of those standards is assessed both for students and teachers?

Lopez: Expectations for the use of technology are embedded in Florida's Sunshine State Standards. As Florida begins to update and revise these standards, we anticipate adding specific technology standards that align with national technology standards for students. Most of our school districts have already adopted student standards for technology based wholly or in part on the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) National Educational Technology Standards for Students (NETS-S). At this time there is no statewide assessment of the achievement of these standards.Florida has established basic technology standards for teachers as part of the requirements for program approval for colleges of education. The Florida Educator Accomplished Practices (FEAP) identify standards in 12 professional areas, including the use of technology, which must be present in the curriculum for teacher preparation. In addition, standards for continued approval of teacher preparation programs require students to demonstrate mastery of each of the Educator Accomplished Practices, including EAP#12 Technology, at the pre-professional level prior to program completion. Graduates of approved teacher education programs should enter the workforce with basic technology skills and the understanding of how to integrate technology and curriculum in the classroom. The newly revised Professional Education Test, which is aligned with the Accomplished Practices, d'es include a competency that tests knowledge of using technology. Technology is also included in the Critical Thinking component and the Subject Matter component. The new test is scheduled to be administered in July. The various subject area tests also include technology components.Beyond teacher education programs and the new certification exams, however, Florida d'es not yet have state-adopted technology standards in place for teachers. Many school districts have adopted such standards based in whole or in part on the ISTE National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers (NETS-T). Some districts have adopted the FEAP for Technology, or a modification thereof. The Bureau of Educational Technology of the Florida Department of Education is working to align the technology portion of the FEAP with NETS-T. If the resulting revisions are accepted by the Florida Education Standards Commission, the Bureau will work to broaden the application of the FEAP for technology to include practicing teachers. Some districts do include technology skill and integration as an item on their teacher performance evaluations. At this time, Florida has no method for assessing teacher technology proficiency.

T.H.E. : What d'es Florida expect its school districts to be doing with their technology money?

Lopez: Florida school districts are under site-based management. It is very difficult for the department to monitor how technology funds are being spent in each district. It is the hope of our agency that through the Technology Resource Survey we will better understand this year, and in the future, how funds are being spent by school districts.

T.H.E. : What do you feel is, or has been, Florida's biggest obstacle related to education technology? How have you or how do you plan to overcome this obstacle?

Lopez: Establishing and maintaining robust technology integration support structures for teachers. Educational technology grants can be very effective in bringing a school into the modern age technologically speaking, but maintaining a positive growth curve is very challenging after initial project funding has run out. Keeping computer networks running and maintaining a current installed base of equipment and software for school staff is expensive and requires ongoing planning and technical expertise. The state legislature has certainly provided significant technology program development and maintenance funding to school districts over the years, but the funds needed to adequately support ongoing, comprehensive, technology-enhanced instruction at each school site is considerable. Florida intends to continue seeking out every possible support avenue, including State Public School Technology Funding appropriations, federal grant programs, special technology initiatives and projects, business partnerships, as well as through collaborative sharing of technical expertise available within the state.

T.H.E. : Is there anything that you think other states could learn from Florida's handling of education technology?

Lopez: Florida, for many years, has set the standard for technology in schools. Over the last 10 years, the Florida legislature has appropriated funds for technology and supported education technology in our schools. This is a standard that should be recognized by other states in order to further technology needs.

T.H.E. : How important is it for every student to have access to the Internet?

Lopez: The Internet is a true equalizer of resources for our schools. It is very important that all students have the ability to use the wealth of resources that are at our fingertips through the Internet.

T.H.E. : how important a factor do your feel wireless technologies, such as handheld devices, wireless laptops, etc., currently play in the classroom. How do you see the use of wireless technologies being used in the future?

Lopez: Wireless d'es and will continue to play a key role in the use of education technology in the classrooms. Wireless technology used in the classroom allows our schools to more cost-effectively connect to the Internet. To completely wire a school with an adequate number of drops in each classroom, one could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, tear up the plant facility and take many weeks to accomplish the job. (e.g., pulling wire, jacks, electronics and improving electrical supply, etc.) To set up a wireless solution, it is simple cost-effective and takes only hours. When you look at a classroom that is completely connected by wires and then one that is using wireless, you can readily see that wireless technology facilitates learning anywhere in the classroom far better.

T.H.E. : How d'es Florida deal with assistive technology for its disabled students, as well as provide adequate resources for ESL students?

Lopez: Florida was one of the first states to address assistive technology in a comprehensive statewide manner. The Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resources System (FDLRS) is funded by Florida' Department of Education through federal assistance under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Part B; IDEA Part B, Preschool; and State General Revenue funds. One branch of FDLRS is devoted to assistive technology. The mission of the Assistive Technology Educational Network (ATEN) is to assist in the enhancement of student outcomes through provision of information, training and technical support in the area of assistive technology. ATEN provides services to students, family members, teachers and other professionals within the state of Florida. ATEN's professional staff includes educators, speech-language pathologists and occupational therapists. ATEN provide the following:

  • Technical Assistance - ATEN provides information and resources related to assistive technology via phone, fax, e-mail, and the Web at www.aten.scps.k12.fl.us.
  • Training - ATEN offers a variety of workshops at its Sanford center and throughout the state. The majority of workshops feature practical hands-on exploration of assistive devices and software and are free to Florida public school system employees, students and their family members and caregivers. Continuing professional education credits are available for workshop participation.
  • Local Assistive Technology Specialists (LATS) - This network of professionals, appointed by their school districts, serves as a front line of support for students with assistive technology needs. LATS also support school personnel, family members and caregivers. The LATS coordinate their district's evaluation and implementation efforts.
  • Resource Lab - The Sanford-based resource lab houses a comprehensive array of assistive technology for hands-on demonstration purposes. The lab includes voice- and print-output devices, low-tech hearing and vision devices, adapted toys, computer adaptations and environmental control systems. The lab will be open daily for scheduled appointments. For further information or to schedule an appointment, call the ATEN lab at (800) 558-6580.
  • Resource Library - ATEN's library contains books, magazines, journals, conference proceedings, catalogs, videos and other resources pertaining to assistive technology. All materials are available for review or two-week checkout.
  • Regional Resource Labs - ATEN supports four additional regional labs: Tallahassee, Tampa, Palatka and Ft. Lauderdale. These facilities offer a sampling of assistive technology options and provide training and support in their regions.
  • Loan Library - ATEN offers a short-term loan library of assistive devices and computer adaptations for the assistive technology assessment and trial use with students. Equipment borrowed from the ATEN loan library is intended for use by students in all settings: school, home and community. It is packaged into customized kits including all necessary accessories and instructions.
  • Print Resources - ATEN's newsletter, Keyhole Communiqué, provides a forum to share information on a variety of topics related to assistive technology.
  • World Wide Web - ATEN's Web site (www.aten.scps.k12.fl.us) features up-to-date information about ATEN, including the ATEN training schedule and ATEN's assistive technology databases, downloadable newsletters and device tutorials, and other resources.

T.H.E. : As online learning continues to grow, how important a role do you feel e-learning plays in the K-12 area?

Lopez: A good example is the latest move to decrease class size in Florida. The Florida Virtual School is a prime example of how we can meet this mandate. E-learning will become the cornerstone of how curriculum will be delivered in the future. We see the very beginning of e-learning happening right now in our institutions of higher learning. Students on and off campus are using e-learning to complete course requirements.

T.H.E. : What d'es the future hold for the use of technology in Florida's schools?

Ruben: We are presently increasing the bandwidth being provided to our K-20 institutions using our educational network. We plan to have a K-20 portal up and running by the end of this year. In the summer, we will begin working with an e-learning center that will be supporting K-20 initiatives for course delivery. These are just a few of the initiatives that our agency is doing to work with our schools to make the delivery of coursework more advantageous to an "anytime, anyplace" learning environment.

- Matthew Miller

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.