MPC policy forum hashes out education technology agenda for Illinois - Metropolitan Planning Council

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MPC policy forum hashes out education technology agenda for Illinois

Network 21 and MPC lead the "Developing an Education Technology Agenda in Illinois" policy forum, drawing leaders in the field to work through how to improve the use of technology in every Illinois classroom.

If we want to ensure that technology in our public schools is being used effectively to improve student achievement, we must think and act beyond the issues of "boxes and wires." 

This was the message from speakers and 60 participants and leaders from the education, business, foundation, and civic communities at "Developing an Education Technology Agenda for Illinois," a policy forum held Nov. 8, 2001 at the Illinois Institute of Technology's downtown Chicago campus.  The event was hosted by the Metropolitan Planning Council and Network 21: Quality Schools and Stronger Communities in collaboration with the Illinois Institute of Technology.  Speakers and discussions in break-out sessions examined the key challenges in integrating technology into classroom use, and helped define a state-level policy agenda to improve the use of technology in Illinois' schools.

"Technology has played a significant role in the shift to globalization," remarked Cheryl Lemke, the forum's keynote speaker, a national expert on learning technology.  "While there is an increasing reliance on technology, the lag in social and cultural shifts prevents us from taking full advantage of the possibilities technology offers .... [There is] a critical need for investment in human capital," continued Lemke, who is also the former associate superintendent for learning technology for the Illinois State Board of Education. 

Lemke showed a clip of a science classroom using technology, demonstrating the value technology can bring to learning.  Technology tools, she commented, offer children the opportunity to learn visually, often providing a more powerful and deeper understanding of the subject matter. 

For technology to be used effectively, Lemke offered six essential conditions that must be in place:  vision, practice, proficiency, equity, access and systems.  These conditions form an important basis for creating benchmarks and assessment tools on technology.  Lemke also discussed policy actions that can be taken at the state level to encourage the effective use of technology in schools.  First and foremost, a forward-looking, shared, informed vision that focuses on globalization and skills for the 21st century is needed.  Additionally, states should develop the capacity to research, prototype, assess and scale effective professional development and digital content for educators.  She also suggested that conditions can be attached to public education technology funds in order to encourage informed-decision making, and that states should allocate funds to address both the challenges of the Digital Divide as well as to honor the work of innovators and pioneers. 

A panel session, moderated by Ricardo Tostado, policy analyst in Learning Technologies at the Illinois State Board of Education, addressed the role of teacher and administrator training on effectively integrating technology, the challenges of developing these skills, and how the new teacher certification process addresses some of these issues.  Panelists included: Steve Kozlowski, Assistant Superintendent at Prairie-Hills Elementary District #144; Elaine Williams, Chief Information Officer at Chicago Public Schools; and Zanele Sibanda, Director of Policy & Program Initiatives- Education at Chicago United.  Panelists agreed that providing teachers with opportunities for professional development that incorporates technology is critical.  Kozlowski suggested that school districts must spend at least 30 percent of their technology budgets on professional development.  Additionally, districts, he said, should have two technology coordinators, one focused on infrastructure and administrative procedures and another focused on instruction and integration of technology into the curriculum and classroom.  Williams commented that the challenge in Chicago Public Schools is to also ensure that there is infrastructure, collaboration and coordination to ensure that there is follow-through into the classroom. Sibanda explained how the common core test in the new teacher certification process will have some assessment of technology skills.  She also explained the role and importance of a performance-based assessment of teachers, an issue Chicago United is actively advocating, to ensure teachers are making use of technology tools in the classroom.  

State Rep. Connie Howard (D-Chicago) highlighted the political challenges and opportunities in better integrating technology into the public education system.  Rep. Howard, known as an advocate for technology in the state assembly, commented that education technology issues are politically viewed as "stepchildren." She said that educators and advocates must make a strong case for technology in education, especially in light of the current tight state budget. 

Participants responded to, and elaborated on, specific policy recommendations outlined in the working version of this paper in break-out discussion sessions.  They offered insight on the types of state level actions that can help in meeting these recommendations, discussed existing efforts on these issues, and identified where leadership exists to move these issues forward and how we can better coordinate various efforts.

Several priority areas surfaced in these discussions.  Participants believed it was important that the State develop criteria or guidelines on technology-infused professional development, including on-line training.  Additionally, the group felt the state should act as a clearinghouse on professional development programs and digital content to help guide local educators toward quality products that align with the Illinois Learning Standards and other state education goals.  Participants also believed it was important for the State to help build administrative leadership around technology.   Key state level measures included developing technology-oriented standards for administrators, and providing administrators with assessment and evaluation tools that can help build accountability around technology use in their schools and classrooms. 

Participants strongly recommended that the state develop measurable benchmarks on education technology to ensure resources are effectively and efficiently used to support student achievement.   These targets should represent a continuum of both inputs and outputs around the use of education technology tools.  For these targets to be useful at both the state and local levels, participants agreed the state should regularly collect and track data , helping districts build a framework for assessing their progress.  With respect to funding education technology, the group agreed that funding increases will be necessary.  The legislative strategy for K-12 education technology funding must be part of a larger comprehensive education reform package, better linked with higher education and uniting stakeholders, including the business community.  Participants agreed that existing funding has to be used more effectively, better integrating technology into other programs and agencies within the Illinois State Board of Education, such as special education.  Participants also concluded that the state should target additional funding and technical assistance to under-performing and low resource school districts, while also creating incentives for innovators in education technology.  The valuable feedback provided by forum participants has been incorporated into the final recommendations in this paper.

Michael Scott, Chair of the Chicago Board of Education, summarized key themes of the forum through a closing address, commenting that "technology is pervasive, needs funding, and needs innovative and creative approaches."

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