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Obama Budget Calls for Reviving Federal Ed-Tech Program

By guest blogger Sean Cavanagh

Roughly four years after he joined Congress in eliminating the Enhancing Education Through Technology program, President Obama is proposing its rebirth—in modified form.

The EETT program was jettisoned in 2010, but the administration's new budget proposal, unveiled Monday, calls for recreating with $200 million as a vehicle for using competitive grants awarded by states to create "model districts" at the local level.

The plan would also help states build the capacity of school districts to use technology to improve instruction, and support the hiring of state officials who would demand "evidence-based" practices in technology, according to a description posted on the U.S. Department of Education's website.

Local school districts that receive grants would need to have basic technology, including an unspecified minimum computer-to-student ratio and level of Internet speed, in addition to committing to following evidence-based standards.

In its description of the proposal, the Obama administration said that "based on the department's experience" running the previous EETT program, the administration will press for several  changes to how it distributes funding, including the awarding of competitive grants by states, the promotion of practices grounded in research, and limits on local spending on hardware.

The Consortium for School Networking, a Washington organization representing K-12 technology officials, described Obama's proposal as "an important first step" that would complement the recent efforts by the Federal Communications Commission to devote billions in new E-rate funding to school broadband technology, among other steps. (President Obama backed the FCC's overhaul.)

The new money would "give educators and district technology leaders the ability to share ideas and discover and implement proven practices to use digital tools to improve educational experiences," the consortium said in a statement.

"We hope Congress and the administration will lock arms and secure this critical investment for the nation's students and teachers."

The Education Department's online blueprint for the proposal points to recent surveys of classroom educators who said they see great potential for technology to help students—yet it notes that many teachers are frustrated at not receiving the training they need to make it happen.

A third of teachers surveyed said the biggest barrier they face to using technology in the classroom is the need for greater professional development, and only 8 percent of classroom teachers described themselves as  "self-sufficient" in using professional development to improve their skills, according to the department.

The administration argues that its proposal would meet those needs by giving teachers new access to tech training and tools, helping them use timely data to "personalize" learning, encouraging them to forge connections with families and other teachers through technology, and giving them access to coaching from peer educators.

At one point, spending on the EETT program was as high as $700 million annually. Here's a breakdown, below, of its funding levels in the years before it was eliminated:



Doug Levin, the executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, a Glen Burnie, Md.-based organization, said the proposal is likely to be greeted with enthusiasm by supporters of ed-tech in schools, even if its political prospects are uncertain, at best.

Congressional Republicans have shown little appetite for increasing funding for domestic programs, he noted. And some of the EETT's champions, such as former U.S. Rep. George Miller, a Democratic lawmaker who was heavily involved in education issues, have left Capitol Hill.

"In this environment, it's starting with two strikes against it," Levin said.

Levin said that in its previous life, the EETT program had been a vehicle for addressing inequities in ed-tech, and he hoped it could still serve that function. The new proposal seemed designed to "scale best practices and get around some thorny issues," in teacher training and other areas, he pointed out.

Even so, "it's hard not to be encouraged that the department is once again interested in partnering with states on creating structural supports for the best uses of technology," Levin said.

Today, districts face complex and potentially costly questions about how to implement technology, he added, and "individual schools and teachers should not have to figure this out on their own."

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