Even if the intention exists to strengthen teaching and learning through technology, accomplishing it is not easy. For school leaders and teachers pursuing technology professional development, a number of factors can easily thwart their success:
Effective professional development programs take time to implement successfully, and providing the commensurate compensation to educators for giving up their time can be a hefty cost for districts to swallow. Districts have tried to offer professional development during the school day by sending kids home early, but NEA senior policy analyst Andrea Prejean says this often provokes a negative response from the local community, as questions arise about where students are supposed to go. Afterschool and summer programs sometimes do not work, she says, because “teachers already have full-time jobs, so they want compensation for that.”
Some cite ideological differences over the merits of technology professional development. “Teachers aren’t encouraged or rewarded to engage kids,” says ISTE CEO Don Knezek. “The focus is on standardized test scores.” Furthermore, Knezek says that administrators don’t value technology integration programs because they “do not lead to gains in basic skills,” which are a highly rated commodity due to No Child Left Behind. “It’s obvious that some things, like NCLB’s narrow focus, is holding some teachers back,” says Knezek, “and forcing them to devote all energy just to that.”
Federal funding targeted for education technology grants has also sharply declined in recent years. “The last eight to 10 years have been very difficult times,” says eMINTS director Monica Beglau. “Federal and state funding levels have been decimated. We’re just limping along.”
All told, appropriations for the federal Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) state grant program have dropped from more than $700 million in 2002 to $267 million in 2008, but the economic stimulus package includes $650 million for the program, which many see as a tremendous success for the education community. In addition, the stimulus also includes flexible provisions that would allow schools to pursue technology initiatives, as $8.8 billion of its state stabilization fund may be used for meeting teaching and learning goals, curriculum, and teacher quality enhancement, says funding expert Jennifer House.
? The Economy
Experts agree that the recession has impacted the popularity of professional development programs, or at least their mode of delivery. More training has been moving from face-to-face to online, says Becky Firth of the Teacher Leadership Project. “Districts, after all, have to cut dollars somewhere to pay an outside organization” for professional development services, she adds.
Few would disagree that the root problem is that too many students just aren’t engaged in school by their teachers. “There’s plenty of evidence that we need to better motivate our educators,” says Knezek.