U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings
is under fire. Not only is the Department of Education dealing with the Reading
First corruption scandal, challenges to the reauthorization
of NCLB, and blowback from the recommendations
of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, apparently Secretary
Spellings also is receiving heat from members of Congress and others for the Department’s
proposal to cut all educational technology funding at a time when many folks
are quite concerned about America’s ability to remain globally competitive (see,
e.g.., A nation
left behind on ed tech?).
What’s Spellings’ solution to her ed tech problem? Well, according to one of
my well-connected sources inside Washington, she seems to be setting up a series
of invite-only ‘ed tech
roundtables’ to talk about educational technology issues. Her first one was
in March in New York. She
said that she met with some of the ‘leading minds in technology and education,’
but two of the three people she listed, Wendy
Kopp of Teach for America and New York City
Schools Chancellor Joel
Klein, aren’t obvious fits for that label and many of
the other participants seemed to either be government types or corporations.
She did hear from a few K-12 educators about their uses of digital
My inside source’s biggest concern is that the major ed tech organizations –
ISTE, CoSN, SETDA,
NACOL, many of the foundations, etc. – are
being completely left out of the conversation. These groups have done an awful
lot to further the cause of K-12 educational technology. At some point one hopes
that they will have an opportunity to participate in these roundtables.
Moreover, Secretary Spellings likely has some purpose in mind for these
discussions. The last time she did this kind of thing it resulted in the Commission on
the Future of Higher Education, which immediately made most postsecondary
institutions quite unhappy. Is she planning a similar group for K-12 educational
Another issue that will be of concern to many is her seeming interest in
technology for data collection purposes, not for pedagogical purposes. As a
participant in the first roundtable said, “She was especially interested
in the role of technology in collecting data about kids and their achievement
levels.” If students truly are to become globally competitive workers,
attention must be given to effective classroom technology usage that helps
students learn, be creative, and become collaborative problem-solvers.
Technology to collect performance data on yearly, summative, standardized tests
of basic skills isn’t going to cut it.
The biggest challenge for Spellings is that her rhetoric doesn’t coincide
with her actions. She says that
underfunding of technology in schools is a big problem, but the Department’s
failure to fund the federal Enhancing Education Through
Technology (EETT) program gives her statements no credibility. The federal
Challenge Grant program, the Technology Literacy
Challenge Fund, the Preparing Tomorrow’s
Teachers to Use Technology (PT3) program, the Community Technology
Centers, and the Regional Technology in
Education Consortia – they are all gone. The only thing left is EETT, and
now the feds have proposed zeroing out that budget yet again.
If you’re an educational technology advocate, it is time to spread the word
about what’s occurring (e.g., link to this post!), express your concerns to
politicians and policymakers, and educate those around you about what the issues
are and what potential responses might be. Although it’s not quite clear what
Secretary Spellings is doing with these roundtables, the notable absence of the
ed tech organizations and a seeming emphasis on NCLB-related technologies is of
at least some concern. And of course the biggest concern of all is the fact that
the U.S. Department of Education, under Secretary Spellings’ watch,
keeps trying to walk away from our children’s technologically-suffused
future. I wish it weren’t so, but it’s hard to interpret the facts
any other way.
Be informed. Be proactive, not reactive. Get involved.