U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings is under fire. Not only is the Department of Education dealing with the Reading First corruption scandal, challenges to the reauthorization of NCLB, and blowback from the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, apparently Secretary Spellings also is receiving heat from members of Congress and others for the Department's proposal to cut all educational technology funding at a time when many folks are quite concerned about America's ability to remain globally competitive (see, e.g.., A nation left behind on ed tech?).
What's Spellings' solution to her ed tech problem? Well, according to one of my well-connected sources inside Washington, she seems to be setting up a series of invite-only 'ed tech roundtables' to talk about educational technology issues. Her first one was in March in New York. She said that she met with some of the 'leading minds in technology and education,' but two of the three people she listed, Wendy Kopp of Teach for America and New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, aren't obvious fits for that label and many of the other participants seemed to either be government types or corporations. She did hear from a few K-12 educators about their uses of digital technologies.
My inside source's biggest concern is that the major ed tech organizations ISTE, CoSN, SETDA, NACOL, many of the foundations, etc. are being completely left out of the conversation. These groups have done an awful lot to further the cause of K-12 educational technology. At some point one hopes that they will have an opportunity to participate in these roundtables. Moreover, Secretary Spellings likely has some purpose in mind for these discussions. The last time she did this kind of thing it resulted in the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, which immediately made most postsecondary institutions quite unhappy. Is she planning a similar group for K-12 educational technology?
Another issue that will be of concern to many is her seeming interest in technology for data collection purposes, not for pedagogical purposes. As a participant in the first roundtable said, "She was especially interested in the role of technology in collecting data about kids and their achievement levels." If students truly are to become globally competitive workers, attention must be given to effective classroom technology usage that helps students learn, be creative, and become collaborative problem-solvers. Technology to collect performance data on yearly, summative, standardized tests of basic skills isn't going to cut it.
The biggest challenge for Spellings is that her rhetoric doesn't coincide with her actions. She says that underfunding of technology in schools is a big problem, but the Department's failure to fund the federal Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program gives her statements no credibility. The federal Technology Innovation Challenge Grant program, the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund, the Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to Use Technology (PT3) program, the Community Technology Centers, and the Regional Technology in Education Consortia they are all gone. The only thing left is EETT, and now the feds have proposed zeroing out that budget yet again.
If you're an educational technology advocate, it is time to spread the word about what's occurring (e.g., link to this post!), express your concerns to politicians and policymakers, and educate those around you about what the issues are and what potential responses might be. Although it's not quite clear what Secretary Spellings is doing with these roundtables, the notable absence of the ed tech organizations and a seeming emphasis on NCLB-related technologies is of at least some concern. And of course the biggest concern of all is the fact that the U.S. Department of Education, under Secretary Spellings' watch, keeps trying to walk away from our children's technologically-suffused future. I wish it weren't so, but it's hard to interpret the facts any other way.
Be informed. Be proactive, not reactive. Get involved.