Network 21 urges ISBE to raise the bar on standards for state education technology use and funding - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Network 21 urges ISBE to raise the bar on standards for state education technology use and funding

Network 21 testimony on behalf of improved use of technology in Illinois' public schools.

Good morning.   My name is Bindu Batchu, and I work on technology policy issues at the Metropolitan Planning Council.  As part of my efforts, I focus on educational technology issues for the Network 21 coalition.

I want to thank you for the opportunity to make some brief remarks today regarding the state's efforts to pursue federal education technology funding and complete its K-12 technology plan.   Network 21 is a coalition of education, business, civic and civil rights organizations that share a common interest in reforming Illinois' school finance system and improving education outcomes through quality reforms.  

As part of those reforms, Network 21 supports policies that improve access to 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. 

Today, we would first like to commend staff at ISBE for strategically reacting to the initial federal requirements for education technology under the No Child Left Behind legislation and being open to setting a strong vision for the use of technology for teaching and learning purposes.  We thank Dick Miguel and Lee Patton for their leadership and efforts to involve stakeholders during this time when significant policy decisions are being made regarding education technology.  Network 21 has been pleased to participate in the ISBE committee that was formed to respond to the federal requirements and application for education technology funds.  We also applaud ISBE for securing Cheryl Lemke's expertise to assist with the federal application and state technology plan. 

Federal indicators for education technology were recently changed.  Now, Illinois stands at an important crossroads.  The initial set of federal indicators  to obtain education technology funding created a broad framework for education technology that required: 

  • Setting standards and goals and related benchmarks around technology literacy and use, especially for students and teachers;
  • Building the assessment tools to understand where we are in meeting these benchmarks; and 
  • Creating greater accountability to meet these goals. 

Though we have had made progress in building technology infrastructure throughout the state, Illinois has especially lagged in the areas the federal government was promoting.

As a state, we can choose to react to the recent changes in the federal indicators and requirements on education technology in two ways.  We can:

  • Do only what is required to keep federal funds and dispose of the initial strategy that ISBE had developed; or
  • Set the bar high and stay the course of developing a comprehensive framework and strategy for education technology for Illinois schools. 

The Network 21 working group on education technology issues is a diverse group of stakeholders including business groups such as the Illinois Manufacturers Association and the American Electronics Association educators and civic organizations.  The  consensus among our working group members is that we as a state are not doing nearly enough to prepare children for the technological and 21st century skills they need to survive in today's workforce and culture.  We believe it is critical that Illinois continue to keep the bar high, following the course of action the state had been taking both to receive the federal No Child Left Behind funds, and the state technology plan prior to the recent shifts in federal indicators. 

This course of action included articulating high and clear standards for education technology use and literacy by teachers, administrators and students; measurable benchmarks aligned with these standards; a solid system to measure and assess progress; capacity-building initiatives; and better accountability measures around technology literacy and use.  Without this framework, Illinois will only inch along in its progress toward technology integration.  As a state, we risk a great deal if we ignore this framework and course of action, including:

  • Losing credibility among legislators, decision-makers and the business community in terms of our approach to the use of technology in education;
  • Losing funding for education technology, both state and possibly federal, because we are not able to demonstrate the impact and progress we have made; and
  • Denying a wider audience of students the diverse opportunities to improve achievement through computer-assisted, e-learning and distance learning vehicles. 

Network 21 recently convened members of its Education Technology Working Group in a focus group to provide feedback to ISBE regarding its direction in securing federal funding and the overall state plan.   One of the overriding concerns and recommendations of this group and Network 21 is to have ISBE develop a system where we can measure and chart our progress in terms of the technology literacy and use of educators and students.  This system can be integrated into the framework for assessments we have in Illinois today.  Specific recommendations include moving toward prototyping and administering the existing ISAT online, helping encourage greater technology use in classrooms, reducing overall assessment costs and providing quicker turnaround time for getting assessment results into teachers' hands.  In the long-term, we recommend the state develop an online ISAT that tests broader technology literacy (using nationally defined technology standards for students such as the ISTE NETS) within the subject/content areas.

To build the framework for education technology that will best serve Illinois students and children, we need commitment from state board leadership.  Confronted with the state budget crisis, legislators are in the process of coming to you as ISBE leadership to reflect on where to make cuts in the education budget.  We have lost significant ground in education technology achievement in the past few years.  There have been no funding gains for education technology in the last three years during a period of relatively bountiful state revenues.  This is at a time when other states, such as Maine and Michigan, are moving forward.  Those states recently committed $30 million and $10 million respectively to provide laptops or other portable, wireless computing devices to a larger portion of their student populations.  (Maine's investment is for providing laptops to all seventh and eighth graders and Michigan's investment will provide every student a portable, wireless, computing device.)

Technology is no longer a luxury but a necessity in conducting and improving the essential functions and operations of educational institutions.  We urge state board members to maintain education technology funding at its existing level of $49.25 million dollars.  Maintaining this funding is essential to continue developing the important framework the state had started to prepare for the federal funding application for education technology.  

Network 21 is interested in continuing to play a supportive role to the board and staff around education technology issues, and helping attract support and resources of the business community to this area of education.  Thank you again for allowing me the opportunity to address you today.

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