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Make Ed Tech a Priority

Allowing technology as an expenditure in various programs is not sufficient.

The federal government lately has been passing out lots of money through competitive programs by way of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Witness nearly $4 billion to states for the Race to the Top initiative; $650 million for the Investing in Innovation (i3) grants to educational consortia; $350 million for an assessment competition; and millions to broadband infrastructure that will affect districts in rural parts of the country.

Together, this represents a huge investment in education, while providing one more example of the golden rule: He who has the gold (the Obama administration) makes the rules (for winning the grant). In each case, grant winners have been able to show how their education-reform plans align with the administration's priorities.

What will those priorities be going forward? You can find out in a little-seen "notice of proposed priorities" (federalregister.gov/a/2010-19296) released in August by the US Department of Education. The document identifies 13 priority areas that can be used for any discretionary grant program in fiscal year 2011 and beyond. Grant applicants that address those areas usually receive extra points. Of the 13 priorities, only three relate to technology--one for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) teaching, one for data-driven decision-making, and one for improving productivity, citing "innovative and sustainable uses of technology."

The other 10 priorities certainly are worthy goals, such as turning around low-achieving schools, but they do not reflect the targets of "A Blueprint for Reform," which the administration put out in March in preparation for discussions on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Technology is shown as the first "cross-cutting priority." The publication states, "Priority may be given to programs, projects, or strategies that leverage digital information or communications technology to accomplish the stated goals of the grant."

The list of 13 proposed priorities also does not reflect President Obama's 2011 budget request for the Education Department, which indicated a focus on "integrating technology into instruction and using technology to drive improvements in teaching and learning." Instead, it demonstrates a mind-set that eliminated Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT), a key federal technology funding source, from that same proposed budget.

I remain convinced that the Obama administration, from offices in the White House to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and key members of his staff, recognizes that the use of technology across all aspects of the education enterprise is critical to bringing about changes to our country's education system. I am less convinced that they know how to get that done. Allowing technology as an expenditure in various programs is not sufficient. Leadership, incentives, and support are needed to implement technology throughout the system in the service of reform. A good start would be to increase technology's presence among the 13 identified priorities.

This article originally appeared in the September 2010 issue of THE Journal.

About the Author

Geoffrey H. Fletcher is the deputy executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).