Network 21 advocates for improvements in education technology in testimony to Illinois State Board of Education - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Network 21 advocates for improvements in education technology in testimony to Illinois State Board of Education

MPC and Network 21 offer recommendations to the Illinois State Board of Education on its draft K-12 Technology Plan, focusing on strategies to better use technology in schools and districts to improve student learning.

Good morning.   My name is Bindu Batchu, Technology Associate at the Metropolitan Planning Council.  As part of my efforts at the Metropolitan Planning Council, I focus on educational technology issues for the Network 21:  Quality Schools and Stronger Communities coalition.

I want to thank you for the opportunity to make some brief remarks today regarding the State Board of Education’s draft K-12 Technology Plan.   Network 21 is a year old coalition of education, business and civic organizations that share a common interest in reforming Illinois' school finance system and improving education outcomes through quality reform. 

As part of quality reforms in education, Network 21 supports policies that improve access and use of technology in all public schools, believing that when used in an integrated fashion with other learning tools, technology can enhance student learning.  On November 8, 2001, Network 21 convened a policy forum entitled “Developing an Education Technology Agenda for Illinois,” attracting over 70 key Illinois leaders representing the K-12 education, higher education, business, foundation and policymaking communities.  At this forum, we presented a working paper that highlighted six key recommendations to ensure technology is being appropriately leveraged to help our students succeed in meeting the Illinois Learning Standards and are prepared for the challenges of the 21st century workplace and society. 

We are pleased that representatives of ISBE have reviewed the analysis and recommendations in this paper and highlighted some of the key points in the state's draft technology plan.  We commend the vision and general direction of the draft plan and feel it has focused on important areas such as better integrating technology into school improvement plans, the professional development of teachers, and improved coordination with other agencies within ISBE.

The plan addresses several key issues in ensuring schools are using technology to support learning for Illinois students.  Network 21 strongly recommends that the ISBE plan address two key questions more clearly.  These are:

  • Where do we want to go?
  • How can we tell if we have gotten there?

The state plan discusses appointing a standing advisory committee to provide advice and recommendations on technology in Illinois K-12 education, including measures for determining progress and success.  Measurements are discussed in the context of benchmarks to evaluate ISBE’s success at the state level.  Network 21 believes that it is as important that ISBE develop clear technology-related targets and benchmarks that can serve as guideposts at the school district and school levels, that guide schools toward building a technology base that enables engaged and dynamic learning.  ISBE can play a critical role in   helping schools and school districts develop a qualitative and analytical framework for considering technology in the school improvement process.  Benchmarks should represent a continuum of both inputs and outputs around the use of education technology tools.  In January 2002, Network 21 will convene an education technology working group with representation from the education, business and civic communities.  Network 21 welcomes the opportunity to advise ISBE on such targets and benchmarks. 

How can we tell whether Illinois’ educational system is meeting these targets?  The state’s draft plan calls for establishing strategies for state and local accountability regarding technology in Illinois K-12 education, including a strategy for data collection and reporting.  Network 21 believes that the development of a data collection instrument and system is an imperative and urgently needed component to ensure and understand how technology investments are being used to improve student learning.  We recommend that ISBE play a key role in collecting and tracking technology-related data based for schools and districts on a regular basis.  This should be a requirement for districts to receive state funding.  The data collected should be tied to help understand where schools and school districts stand in meeting established benchmarks.  Such data can allow for better planning and continuous improvement, supported by quantitative and qualitative data, to ensure future investments in technology result in overall improvements in meeting Illinois Learning Standards. 

Over the past few years, the state has lost ground with state education technology appropriations.  Appropriations have increased only 1 percent in the past three years, lower than the rate of inflation.  The draft plan calls for annual increases in state funding levels at least proportionate to increases in GSA.  Network 21 believes that in the short-term increases should be commensurate with the growth in general funds for education.  In the long-run, ISBE should assess where Illinois schools stand with respect to the targets or benchmarks and how much it will take in state programs and financial resources to help them meet the benchmarks.  Clearly, the financial resources to meet these must come from local, state and federal levels.  ISBE should devise a budget and funding increase strategy focused on state and federal resources to help schools meet the state targets.

Equity and innovation are both important pieces of state funding to school districts.  We applaud the plan’s focus on high-poverty schools and bridging the achievement gap.  However, we need sufficient financial and technical assistance resources directed toward districts struggling to reach established benchmarks, those with low local resources and higher percentages of students in poverty, and those that are under-performing.   ISBE should consider reviving the intense type of technical assistance provided through the economically challenged schools districts program in 1995 and 1996.  Additionally, the state should encourage innovative work around technology integration for education reform and improvement through incentive or award programs.

Regarding professional development, we commend the state’s goal to develop standards for technology-infused professional development.  We ask that ISBE  also consider acting as a clearinghouse on professional development training programs and digital content to help schools better select programs that align with the Illinois Learning Standards and other state education goals.   Since administrative leadership is such an essential component to successful technology integration, Network 21 recommends that ISBE develop and adopt technology standards for school administrators, such as the recently released Technology Standards for School Administrators (TSSA).

Thank you again for allowing me the opportunity to address the board today.  Network 21 looks forward to working with you, and is glad to serve as a resource to the state board whenever possible.

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