By Sean Cavanagh
Teachers may be the undisputed authorities on academic content in their classrooms, but when it comes to their knowledge of technology, many of them have a lot of catching up to do.
The widely acknowledged need to improve the tech skills of teachers and other school officials, and help them understand how digital tools should be used in the classroom, should be a major area of focus among state officials and other policymakers, according to a report released today by the National Association of State Boards of Education.
The association's recommendations cover a lot of ground—from the need to improve educational infrastructure in schools, and tailor learning to personalize instruction, to the need to use technology to build students' foundational research and analytical skills.
But the report also examines the extent to which many teachers, principals, curriculum specialists, and support staff lack the necessary familiarity with technology to make the most of it in classrooms. Lots of barriers exist to closing this gap, including steady teacher turnover, and a generation gap—the average age of principals is around 50, the report's authors say, so "it will be some years before a large portion of school leaders are digital natives." Many teachers, meanwhile, aren't given adequate training for the tech challenges ahead, the report contends:
"Many educator preparation programs do not provide adequate focus on the teaching skills, dispositions, and strategies needed to thrive in a technology-rich school or reflect the digital learning environments we want to create in our K-12 classrooms. Professional learning for teachers too often has not kept pace with advances in technology or new ways of learning, even as the number and quality of these opportunities have fallen significantly due to budget cuts."
One of the report's findings relates to teachers' understanding of how to use data: Just three states have put in place policies and practices, including professional development and credentialing, to ensure that educators know how to "access, analyze, and use data appropriately."
The report, authored by a study group comprised almost entirely of state board officials and others—offers several recommendations for improving the picture on this front.
Among them: State boards and teacher-licensing entities should take steps to ensure that teacher candidates have tech skills and the ability to use technology to personalize instruction; they should ensure that aspiring teachers have "robust clinical experiences" where they use technology and online programs; and they should improve access to professional development and mentoring throughout the school day on technology.
The full menu of the association's recommendations will be unveiled today at a presentation on Capitol Hill.