Margaret Spellings is under fire

[cross-posted at Moving at the Speed of Creativity]


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U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings\nis under fire. Not only is the Department of Education dealing with the Reading\nFirst corruption scandal, challenges to the reauthorization\nof NCLB, and blowback from the recommendations\nof the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, apparently Secretary\nSpellings also is receiving heat from members of Congress and others for the Department's\nproposal to cut all educational technology funding at a time when many folks\nare quite concerned about America's ability to remain globally competitive (see,\ne.g.., A nation\nleft behind on ed tech?).\n

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What's Spellings' solution to her ed tech problem? Well, according to one of\nmy well-connected sources inside Washington, she seems to be setting up a series\nof invite-only 'ed tech\nroundtables' to talk about educational technology issues. Her first one was\nin March in New York. She\nsaid that she met with some of the 'leading minds in technology and education,'\nbut two of the three people she listed, Wendy\nKopp of Teach for America and New York City\nSchools Chancellor Joel\nKlein, aren't obvious fits for that label and many of\nthe other participants seemed to either be government types or corporations.\nShe did hear from a few K-12 educators about their uses of digital\ntechnologies.

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My inside source's biggest concern is that the major ed tech organizations –\nISTE, CoSN, SETDA,\nNACOL, many of the foundations, etc. – are\nbeing completely left out of the conversation. These groups have done an awful\nlot to further the cause of K-12 educational technology. At some point one hopes\nthat they will have an opportunity to participate in these roundtables.\nMoreover, Secretary Spellings likely has some purpose in mind for these\ndiscussions. The last time she did this kind of thing it resulted in the Commission on\nthe Future of Higher Education, which immediately made most postsecondary\ninstitutions quite unhappy. Is she planning a similar group for K-12 educational\ntechnology?

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Another issue that will be of concern to many is her seeming interest in\ntechnology for data collection purposes, not for pedagogical purposes. As a\nparticipant in the first roundtable said, "She was especially interested\nin the role of technology in collecting data about kids and their achievement\nlevels." If students truly are to become globally competitive workers,\nattention must be given to effective classroom technology usage that helps\nstudents learn, be creative, and become collaborative problem-solvers.\nTechnology to collect performance data on yearly, summative, standardized tests\nof basic skills isn't going to cut it.

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The biggest challenge for Spellings is that her rhetoric doesn't coincide\nwith her actions. She says that\nunderfunding of technology in schools is a big problem, but the Department's\nfailure to fund the federal Enhancing Education Through\nTechnology (EETT) program gives her statements no credibility. The federal\nTechnology Innovation\nChallenge Grant program, the Technology Literacy\nChallenge Fund, the Preparing Tomorrow's\nTeachers to Use Technology (PT3) program, the Community Technology\nCenters, and the Regional Technology in\nEducation Consortia – they are all gone. The only thing left is EETT, and\nnow the feds have proposed zeroing out that budget yet again.

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If you're an educational technology advocate, it is time to spread the word\nabout what's occurring (e.g., link to this post!), express your concerns to\npoliticians and policymakers, and educate those around you about what the issues\nare and what potential responses might be. Although it's not quite clear what\nSecretary Spellings is doing with these roundtables, the notable absence of the\ned tech organizations and a seeming emphasis on NCLB-related technologies is of\nat least some concern. And of course the biggest concern of all is the fact that\nthe U.S. Department of Education, under Secretary Spellings' watch,\nkeeps trying to walk away from our children's technologically-suffused\nfuture. I wish it weren't so, but it's hard to interpret the facts\nany other way.

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Be informed. Be proactive, not reactive. Get involved.

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