School leaders: Focus on new-age skills

Finding ways to assess 21st-century learning skills should be at the forefront of the educational technology agenda for the next president and Congress, according to a new survey from the National School Boards Association (NSBA). The survey also suggests that the economic downturn has dramatically affected the technology purchasing plans of the nation’s school districts, with two-thirds of districts saying they’ve put off buying hardware as a result.

More than 500 school and district leaders responded to NSBA’s annual ed-tech survey, which the organization released at its Technology + Learning (T+L) Conference in Seattle last week.

More than half of those surveyed agreed that their top educational technology priority for the new administration and Congress should be assessing students’ 21st-century skills, such as problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration. Forty-three percent of respondents called for supporting more professional development on the use of technology in schools, while 38 percent wanted greater focus on the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subject areas.

"It is time for federal leadership to invest in the research and development of new tools that will help educators assess [21st-century] skills," said Anne L. Bryant, NSBA’s executive director. "It’s also important to note that more than 80 percent of educators indicated that technology has supported their ability to deliver increased 21st-century learning opportunities to their students."

School district leaders noted that their biggest ed-tech challenge is securing funding for technology (50 percent), followed by integrating technology into the classroom (40 percent). The struggling economy is also affecting school districts’ technology programs: Sixty-four percent of districts said they’ve delayed hardware purchases or upgrades this year.

While the flagging economy has had a negative affect on school technology programs, two positive trends have emerged, the survey suggests: 29 percent of responding districts have explored or adopted open-source technologies, and 20 percent have explored "green" IT initiatives as ways to offset costs and save money.

Survey respondents listed a variety of ways their districts are trying to meet 21st-century learning goals, such as using new assessment tools to measure 21st-century skills (43 percent); raising math, science, and technology standards (38 percent); focusing on career technology readiness programs (34 percent); and offering more Advanced Placement courses and tests (33 percent).

A new survey question addressed the use of data to drive educational decisions. Respondents indicated that this was happening in a variety of ways–and nearly two-thirds said they now offer professional development to ensure that data are interpreted accurately. Sixty-five percent of respondents use data to help allocate district resources; 49 percent use data to aid in staffing decisions; and 45 percent said their teachers use data to customize lessons based on students’ abilities. Fifty-six percent said they have student information systems that provide for easy analysis of data.

"It’s no surprise that our school districts are using data to drive their instructional decision-making," Bryant said. "It is essential for districts to use every possible resource at their disposal to improve student achievement–through central office operations, student placement, and classroom instruction."

Ninety-three percent of respondents said they believe technology increases educational opportunities for children, and 92 percent said it helps engage students in learning. Sixty percent agreed that technology can enhance the curriculum for students with special needs, 58 percent said it can help students develop critical thinking skills, and 55 percent said it can help students develop stronger communication skills.

When asked about devices that can best engage students, respondents said interactive whiteboards (51 percent) were most effective, followed by laptops (44 percent), overhead projectors (24 percent), and personal response systems (21 percent).

The digital divide continues to be an issue for school districts, with 70 percent of respondents saying that home internet access is a problem for low-income students. Districts are working to close this divide by providing internet access in before- or after-school programs (51 percent) and supporting access for students at community centers or libraries (40 percent).


National School Boards Association

Survey results