Urging policy makers and school leaders "to take bold steps … to improve education for America’s 21st-century leaders," the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) has issued new guidance for reforming the nation’s schools with the help of technology.
Hoping to reach the attention of a new administration and Congress, SETDA’s "Class of 2020: Action Plan for Education" notes that every child entering kindergarten this year deserves a high-quality, 21st-century education. The plan includes several white papers, a Student Bill of Rights, and a set of 10 recommendations to improve teaching and learning using technology.
"There is a crisis in American education today, as evidenced in falling graduation rates, entrants unprepared to enter college and the workforce, fewer people seeking science and math degrees, costly teacher turnover, and poor retention rates," said Mary Ann Wolf, SETDA’s executive director. "Our students deserve better. We know how the proper uses of technology in education can transform teaching and learning to improve student engagement and achievement."
The report cites several statistics to press home the need for swift action. For example, according to SETDA, the high school graduation rate is just barely over 70 percent, and fewer than 50 percent of graduates are prepared for the workforce or college. Among all U.S. industries, education ranks dead last in the use of technology.
Also, by 2010, more than 90 percent of all scientists will be living in Asia, and the United States ranks 20th in the world for graduate degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
With input from more than 100 national policy makers and all 50 state educational technology offices, SETDA’s action plan sets forth the following 10 recommendations for national, state, and local education leaders:
1. Ensure that technology tools and resources are used continuously and seamlessly for instruction, collaboration, and assessment.
2. Expose all students (pre-K through 12th grade) to STEM fields and careers.
3. Make ongoing, sustainable professional development available to all teachers.
4. Use virtual learning opportunities for teachers to further their professional development, such as through online communities and education portals.
5. Incorporate innovative, consistent, and timely assessments into daily instruction.
6. Strengthen the home-school connection by using technology to communicate with parents on student progress.
7. Provide the necessary resources so that every community has the infrastructure to support learning with technology, including assessments and virtual learning.
8. Obtain societal support for education that uses technology from all stakeholders–students, parents, teachers, state and district administrators, business leaders, legislators, and local community members.
9. Provide federal leadership to support states and districts regarding technology’s role in school reform by passing the ATTAIN Act.
10. Increase available funding for the e-Rate so that schools can acquire telecommunication services, internet access, internal connections, and maintenance of those connections.
These recommendations were culled from a series of five white papers that SETDA published within the last year, on topics ranging from broadband access and STEM education to technology-based assessments and virtual learning.
The action plan says school leaders must ensure that technology tools and resources are used continuously and seamlessly for instruction, collaboration, and assessment. It also says technology should be used to strengthen the home-school connection by communicating with parents on student progress.
One of these technology tools is broadband internet access for all students.
In its report "High-Speed Broadband Access for All Kids: Breaking through the Barriers," SETDA states that although national statistics boast nearly 98-percent connectivity in U.S. schools, the reliability and bandwidth of these connections are often insufficient. (See "SETDA urges schools to boost bandwidth.")
To provide a technology-rich learning environment for the next 2-3 years, SETDA recommends an external connection to the internet service provider of 10 megabits per second (Mbps) for every 1,000 students and staff members, and internal wide-area network connections between schools of at least 100 Mbps per 1,000 students and staff members.
Over the next 5-7 years, the group recommends an external internet connection of 100 Mpbs for every 1,000 students and staff members and internal wide-area network connections of at least 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) per 1,000 students and staff members.
SETDA’s action plan also states that all students must be exposed to STEM fields and careers.
Its report "Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)" gives 10 examples from across the United States where states, districts, or schools are successfully implementing STEM education into the curriculum.
"The negative connotations of the computer geek, ‘brainiac’ scientist, and ‘mathlete’ need to be turned on their heads," said Wolf. "Parents, teachers, and community leaders must promote the possibilities of STEM careers instead of relegating these choices to ‘other kids’ who are really good at math and science."
For students to gain exposure to STEM careers, schools must obtain societal support for STEM education, provide ongoing and sustainable professional development for STEM educators, and recruit and retain high-quality STEM teachers, SETDA says.
The action plan also maps out a Student Bill of Rights, which says:
1. Each student has the right to feel safe in and proud of a school.
2. Each student deserves an engaging educational experience that provides opportunities for learning and for the future, including the acquisition of 21st-century skills required for the global workforce.
3. Each student deserves to have highly qualified and effective teachers that have the necessary support in terms of resources, professional development, planning time, and leadership.
4. Each student deserves an individualized learning experience addressing his or her abilities, strengths, and weaknesses.
5. Each student has a right to the tools, technology, and resources needed for developing into lifelong learners and creators of knowledge.
SETDA’s action plan calls for all teachers to have access to ongoing and sustainable professional development–including virtual learning opportunities to further their development, such as online communities and education portals.
In another report, titled "Empowering Teachers: A Professional and Collaborative Approach," SETDA says that "while some school districts and states are moving toward ongoing, relevant, and continuous learning for teachers, this is not necessarily the standard and is not scalable nationwide. Online learning communities, education portals, and coaching and mentoring are some of the proven methods for providing sustainable professional development for our teachers."
The report goes on to highlight more than 20 examples from states and districts using innovative approaches to professional development.
It also lists these key components of effective professional development for teachers:
– Leadership–effective schools and district leaders who guide continuous instructional improvement;
– Knowledge–a deep understanding of the subject-matter content;
– Resources–access to resources and tools necessary to implement learning strategies appropriate to the goals of teaching and learning;
– Collaboration–participation in professional learning communities;
– Evaluation–use of data to improve instructional approaches, improve student achievement, and evaluate teacher effectiveness; and
– Sustainability–ongoing and sustainable professional development for improving teaching practices.
For the classroom
The action plan calls for incorporating innovative, consistent, and timely assessment into daily instruction.
In its report, "Technology-Based Assessment to Improve Teaching and Learning," SETDA calls on states to redefine their role from "Data Compliance Officers" to "Data Leaders"–supporting the use of relevant, timely data at the school and district levels to improve instruction and teacher quality and drive school reform efforts. (See "Technology key to analyzing assessment data.")
Many schools and districts that have shown strong gains in student achievement are using low-stakes formative assessments throughout the year to monitor individual student progress, SETDA notes. These formative assessments can provide data that are useful to inform systemic change in policies at the district level–and changes in instruction at the classroom level.
"The difference is whether our educational system uses data reactively or proactively," explained Wolf. "Scaling these low-stakes formative assessment systems up will make a real difference in our educational system. This will require meaningful teacher training, IT support to ensure that data delivered to teachers are relevant and user-friendly, and strong leadership emphasizing the importance of data analysis to drive classroom instruction at the school, district, and state levels."
The report highlights 15 examples from states and districts using technology-based assessments to individualize instruction to improve student achievement, remediate students before it’s too late, track individual student growth and progress, and achieve school improvement goals.
In conclusion, the action plan asks that communities be given the necessary resources and infrastructure to support learning with technology, including virtual learning.
It calls for societal support of educational technology and asks federal leadership to support states and districts regarding technology’s role in school reform by passing the ATTAIN Act. (See "New bill would revamp ed-tech funding.")
Finally, the plan asks federal policy makers to increase the amount of e-Rate funding that is available to help schools acquire telecommunication services, internet access, internal connections, and maintenance of those connections.
"Now is the time to take bold steps in education policy to improve education for America’s 21st-century future leaders," said Wolf. "America’s students have the potential to compete effectively in the global economy, [but] our educational system must respond to the needs of America’s future innovators by supporting them as lifelong learners and inquisitive creators of knowledge."
Note to readers:
Don’t forget to visit the “ Creating the 21 st Century Classroom ”resource center. Preparing today’s youth to succeed in the digital economy requires a new kind of teaching and learning. Skills such as global literacy, computer literacy, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and innovation have become critical in today’s increasingly interconnected workforce and society–and technology is the catalyst for bringing these changes into the classroom. Go to Creating-the-21st-century-classroom