It's Time We Started Asking the Right Questions; Can We Now Ask the Right Questions from Our Investment in Educational Technology? New Federal Legislation Provides the Prompt

Article excerpt

Despite the recent findings that the advent of the Internet has not, according to a September 2000 National Center of Education Statistics Report, "dramatically changed how teachers teach or how students learn" -- and serious misgivings from a number of educational experts about the value of computer-based educational approaches -- President George W. Bush recently signed a bill that would provide roughly a billion dollars in educational technology spending. This is an increase of $60 million above last year's levels and all the more remarkable for being enacted subsequent to the tragic events of September 11, when very little that was not national security related saw the legislative light of day.

Such an outcome was never that clear during the campaign season, when the Bush policy advisors were expressing skepticism about the value of technology spending and were cautioning that investments in technology needed to be research-based and tested. Campaign material also placed in doubt continued funding of one of the main drivers of technology use in school, the $2.5 billion subsidy of telecommunications services for schools located in high poverty areas, commonly known as the E-Rate. In contrast to the Clinton-Gore enthusiasm concerning all things technological--and their passion to connect first every school and then every classroom to the Internet--the Bush "wait-and-see" approach had many in the technology industry concerned that the impetus behind the massive increases in federal uses of technology over the last decade, which stimulated a commensurate amount of state spending, might vaporize as quickly as it had come. This would leave the impression that the bets placed on the educational technology industry were as wishful as those placed on companies and just as fragile.

A Political Turnaround

The turnaround in educational technology fortunes was the result of several factors. When any administration comes to town, those in it learn quickly that in return for gaining support for their priority issues (in the case of the Bush Administration, annual testing) they need to accommodate those of Congressional leaders. Since day one, those leaders have remained enthusiastic supporters of technology, and that support is deep and widespread across party lines. The reasons are not hard to find. Both suburban and inner-city parents alike continue to imagine that computers in classrooms are synonymous with educational progress and their mere presence indicates that their children are being prepared for the new workforce. Business, in turn, supports this fundamental consensus, casting one eye on the demands of industry as it attempts to recruit technology-literate workers and the other on the increasingly profitable potential of the global education-technology market.

But technology boosters are increasingly facing the types of criticisms that led to the Bush campaign advisers' wanting to distance themselves from the gung-ho technophoria of their opponents. With the anticipated decline in state revenues and concomitant pressures to show improvements in student achievement, states are facing harder choices as to whether to continue to invest in the ever more expensive technology upgrades or to focus more on those budget items that show more direct linkages to test improvement. State technology dollars are already seeking to make explicit that connection. In some cases, it is building portal sites based around standards--such as Pennsylvania's current $26.8 million investment in its Link to Learn site--in other cases, such as Georgia's $10 million, three-year middle school pilot project, it provides laptops to every student and teacher and special Internet-delivered content. In this same vein, the new federal legislation calls for the development of state and local technology plans that clearly set out the way that the strategy will lead to demonstrated improvements in student learning. …