President Ed Tech

##AUTHORSPLIT##<---> Following a rough ride with the Bush administration, only one candidate offers the policies and vision that can reinvigorate our industry and help our students gain a foothold on the future.

Geoffrey H. FletcherBARACK OBAMA for president.

I say this with equal parts gravity and enthusiasm, and after a great amount of consideration. It's certainly not something I am in the practice of doing. In my long tenure at T.H.E. Journal, I have aggressively advocated for the education and technology communities, but have stayed clear of endorsing candidates for office. It can be bad for business, as well as a little presumptuous. But this country can no longer afford to have tepid support for technology in education from the federal government, when all other facets of our-- and the world's-- economy and society are leveraging technology to make changes in how they operate.

Many US schools are on the cusp of greatness. Robust deployment of technology, effective professional development, informed use of data, and close connections to parents and the community at large are the hallmarks of these campuses. Unfortunately, they are in the minority, what Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has called "islands of excellence."

The success of these schools has happened in spite of what we might politely call mixed messages from the Bush administration. The first iteration of the administration's No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) included the Enhancing Education Through Technology initiative, with funding totaling about $700 million. Three years later, the administration began zeroing out the program. Congress was able to keep it alive but with its funding weakened, forcing states to cut back the support they could offer schools.

After too many years of antagonism from the White House, we need the right leadership to help undo the damage done to the education technology movement. We need leadership that can create programs that are suffi- ciently broad-based and flexible for states and districts to adapt to their local needs. And we need leadership that can prepare our students for the second decade of the 21st century. I'm endorsing Sen. Obama because he has articulated a technology and education platform that will provide the support and direction crucial to the future of our schools and students. Obama's opponent, Sen. John McCain, also has a platform for technology in education, and though it is not without merit, it is too targeted to meet the many and diverse needs of states and school districts.

Obama's plan is like a page out of this very magazine: a balanced use of technology integrated throughout all of teaching and learning, with a special look at better approaches to testing, the bane of educators' existence as drawn in NCLB.

In a recent op-ed piece outlining his vision for education, Obama stated, "I'll bring our schools into the 21st century by helping them integrate technology into their curriculum and teach kids not only math and science, but the teamwork, critical thinking, and communications skills required in today's workplace."

He also spoke of the role technology can play in keeping parents informed about their child's education: "I'll help schools post student progress reports online so parents can get a regular update on what kind of grades [their children are] getting on tests and quizzes from week to week."

In his education reform plan, Obama provides further signals that he has the right ideas about technology use in the classroom: "We must integrate technology and its range of applications into all our nation's schools so that we go beyond the conception that educational technology means just specialization in technology....[My] administration will ensure that all students are trained to use technology to research, analyze, and communicate in any discipline."

Obama's plan calls for the creation of a $500 million matching fund to ensure technology is fully incorporated into schools. The fund would be dedicated to improving the quality of learning and instruction through simulations, interactive games, and tutoring. The money would also be used to develop better student assessments, encourage states to use technology to provide regular reports to parents, and create new, tech-based curriculum with help from leaders in the technology industry.

Finally, Obama wants to use this fund to support the shift to student-centered instruction, in which teachers act more as guides, rather than providers, of knowledge: "The fund will use technology to allow teachers to work collaboratively with their peers across the country to share best practices and support teachers to provide more individualized assistance to students so that teachers are no longer the primary source of facts and information, but instead the coaches on how to best analyze and apply information."

In the face of Obama's forwardlooking educational strategies, McCain's approach is too narrow to bring the breadth of change that the educational environment needs. McCain's website states that he "will make real the promise of NCLB by giving parents greater choice. Choice is the best way to protect children against a failing bureaucracy. But parents must have more control over the money."

There are five ways McCain is proposing to provide more choice, and three of them have to do with online learning. He will:

  • Expand virtual learning by targeting $500 million in current federal funds to build new virtual schools and support the development of online course offerings for students.
  • Allocate $250 million to a competitive grant program to support states that commit to expanding online education opportunities by building virtual math and science academies and offering online tutoring and foreign language courses.
  • Offer $250 million for "digital passport scholarships" to help students pay for online tutors or enroll in virtual schools.

These are interesting and in some cases compelling ideas for virtual learning. However, this appears to be the extent of McCain's technology and education platform, so its impact would be limited.

Obama's broad-based approach will bring a much-needed spark to technology and education. His emphasis on integrating technology throughout curriculum, student-based learning, creating better assessments, and cultivating 21st-century skills is exactly the formula that can transform education and ensure our students are prepared to live and work in a changed world.

-Geoffrey H. Fletcher, Editorial director

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/2008 issue of THE Journal.

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