Technology Cuts Run Deep
Nearly a third of federal funding was cut under this year's No Child Left Behind Title II, Part D budget, meaning districts that started to use technology facilitators and started to integrate computers in lessons are getting the rug pulled out from under them, some educators say.
But this time, Congress approved the 28 percent cut in the law's Enhancing Education through Technology Act.
"The decision was made by people that don't know much about education," says Melinda George, executive director of State Educational Technology Directors Association. "They didn't realize what this cut does."
The funds essentially helped districts pay for professional development for teachers, principals and administrators. The money also led to greater technology literacy among educators.
Half the money under the act goes to districts with the most need and half goes to districts on a competitive grant basis. Funds helped teachers in Missouri integrate multimedia into lessons; they increased Indiana student achievement in math, language arts and science as seen in test scores; they created a partnership in Oregon that allowed widespread access to streaming video with lesson plans, training and support for teachers; and allowed Rhode Island teachers to use handheld computers to assess effectiveness in teaching reading and literacy.
Even in Wilson County, N.C., the district is trying to figure out its future. "Instead of looking at cuts, we should be looking at increases in funding," says Terry Goff, executive director of technology in the Wilson County Schools. "We talk about leaving no child behind, and it's really bad to get children excited and then just stop."
Wilson County used roughly $84,000 a year from the act to pay for stipends for teachers who acted as technology integration facilitators. Certain teachers had formal training and then helped other teachers understand how to integrate certain technology. The funds also paid for equipment including laptops, SmartBoards and CPS systems, which include essentially remote control clickers that students can press to guess the right answer on a test displayed on a projection screen in front of class.
Under this program, technology use is more prevalent in all grades. "There's more excitement in the classrooms," Goff says. George says the only step SETDA can take now is to provide states and districts with information and try to restore the lost funds in the next budget session.
Some districts are still trying to figure out the No Child Left Behind law.
The law's requirements deal specifically with Title I funds. About 67 percent of all elementary schools in the U.S. receive Title I funds, which are for low-income and high poverty area schools where a certain percentage of students receive free and reduced lunch. If schools receive such federal funds, then they are obligated and held accountable to certain mandates under NCLB, according to Jo Ann Webb, a spokeswoman at the U.S. Department of Education.
But there are many schools that have low-income and minority students that don't receive Title I funds. Such schools don't have to offer supplemental education services, or tutoring, or school choice to students if a school is deemed "in need of improvement," Webb says.
All schools, however, under NCLB must have highly qualified teachers, must meet adequate yearly progress, and they must report their attendance, test scores and other statistics publicly.
"Most of the states already have strong accountability laws that have been kicking in over the last 15 years," says Kathy Christie, vice president of Education Commission of the States' Clearinghouse. "A lot of states are working hard to deal with assistance for school needs anyway."
Students in small and rural schools in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Georgia will reap benefits from a new $5 million grant to develop a national model for increasing educational opportunities for such schools.
The Association of Education Service Agencies and Catapult Learning, a provider of education services, has been awarded the five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement. The main goal is to establish a streamlined contracting and purchasing system so small and rural districts have greater access to high quality supplemental instructional programs, or SES, under NCLB. This has been a challenge for such schools.
Chicago Fights Feds to Tutor Own Students
While Chicago students need tutoring in math and reading and the district wants to provide that help, the U.S. Department of Education says the law is the law.
Under No Child Left Behind, a district or school deemed to be "in need of improvement" cannot be a supplemental service provider, according to Jo Ann Webb, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education. The district must contract out for a provider for such services.
Officials at Chicago Public School District, which as a whole failed to make adequate yearly progress this past year despite most schools' steady academic gains over several years, claims it will challenge this, saying it's a "slap in the face" to teachers and students. "If this is what the law calls for, then the law should be changed," says CPS Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan.
Tens of thousands of students have been going to Chicago Public Schools' tutoring program after school, but the U.S. Department of Education, which funds the tutoring program for low-performing schools, says Chicago has failed those students and cannot receive federal money to boost performance. Ten other districts in Illinois that failed to make AYP this past year have also been told they cannot provide SES.
The Chicago district spends about $400 per child to tutor students, but the same services cost about $1,500 per child using a private vendor. And often, teachers who tutor students through the district's program are the same teachers who are hired by vendors, but at the higher cost.
Out of 80,000 children needing tutoring, the district can only afford to send 24,000 students to tutoring from vendors. Before the decision, parents had been able to choose between the district and vendors, with the district's program being more popular, officials say. Private vendors are already overburdened, and some are unable to serve special education and bilingual students, Chicago officials say.
Preparing For Tests With Tests
No longer responsible for selecting or creating summative tests, such as standardized tests, district test directors are wading into the formative testing waters. This action is both to prepare students for the high-stake tests and to meet NCLB requirements for individual diagnostic and prescriptive testing.
"What has been created by NCLB is what we call the 'aftermarket' for formative assessments," says John H. Oswald, senior vp and general manager of elementary and secondary education at Educational Testing Service.
It is in this aftermarket that districts are hoping to find supplemental, scientifically based tests and curriculum supports to help struggling students meet NCLB standards. The number of districts investing in formative assessments is growing dramatically. The entire testing market in 2004 was estimated to be about $1.06 billion, according to Boston-based Eduventures. About 20 percent, or $200 million, of this was spent on formative assessments.
"And the formative market is growing at a relatively quick pace of about 15 percent a year," says J. Mark Jackson, senior analyst with Eduventures.
And while sorting through the crowded market of formative test providers--ETS cautions that districts should make sure products are actually aligned to its state's standards -soon the data-driven nature of these products will produce effectiveness data. In other words, districts will have concrete evidence as to whether a particular tool, and the related instructional supports, are working.
This valuable data will begin to be available--if districts demand it--about the same time as the niche players in the formative industry are likely to be swallowed up by the major test publishers, Eduventures predicts. They're already getting into the formative game; in 2004 CTB/McGraw-Hill purchased Grow Network, and Pearson launched its
PASeries Reading and Mathematics assessments, formative assessment tools. This trend will allow districts to choose formative and summative products that are tightly linked.
"The lines are blurring between high-stakes and low-stakes tests, and it's being pushed by accountability," says Frank Catalano, senior vice president of marketing for Pearson Education. "People want the formative assessments to be as reliable and scientifically valid as the high-stakes tests."
Also on the horizon, industry experts say, is the likelihood that some states will provide formative assessments. "We see this demand for formative tools not just at the district level but at the state level," says David Taggart, president of CTB/McGraw-Hill.
But not all states will jump on this bandwagon. "Districts, teachers and principals are probably in the best position to know what will work for them in terms of the kind of assessment that will allow them to modify their instruction as they need to," says Deb Sigman, state test director for California.