State of the States: IT taking bigger role in classrooms

Nationwide efforts to bring schools into the Information Age are gaining momentum, with governors pledging to bring computers to more classrooms this year and to ensure that students and teachers know how to use them.

New and expanded programs outlined in governors' State of the State speeches this month emphasize the growing importance of computers to basic education.

Students will be at a disadvantage, governors say, if they are denied access to computers and to the wealth of resources available through the technology.

California and West Virginia are among the states earmarking more funds for computer purchases. But states also are looking beyond acquisition and thinking about the role technology plays in education.

Proficiency is the first concern. "Every high school should certify that each graduate is computer proficient," said Ohio Gov. Bob Taft in his State of the State speech this month. "Without such skills, our students will be left behind. With such skills, the future for our students shines bright with opportunity."

High school graduates should possess such skills as word processing and database management and have a proven ability to use computers to solve problems and gather information, Taft said.

The governor plans to ask Ohio's Joint Council of the State Board of Education and the Ohio Board of Regents to establish an effective date and standards for measuring proficiency.

Teaching the Teachers

States aim to improve the proficiency of their teachers as well.

Here the concern is not just a matter of basic computer skills, but the ability of teachers to incorporate technology into lesson plans. Many teachers who were trained years ago need to master whole new skill sets.

In her State of the State address, New Jersey Gov. Christine Whitman announced plans to create a "virtual academy" that would offer public school teachers opportunities ranging from interactive workshops to online training. The academy will build on an existing "virtual university" through which higher-education students can access classes and other resources over the Internet.

"In doing so, we will work with a New Jersey higher education institution to develop the best and newest methods of training teachers," Whitman said.

Likewise, California Gov. Gray Davis is requesting $25 million in 2000-2001 to train teachers of kindergarten through 12th grade.

California is one of a growing number of states to realize that technology, when made part of the standard curriculum, can provide access to resources previously out of reach for many schools.

Davis is asking for $175 million this year to buy more computers for the state's classrooms. The first priority, the governor said, will be those high schools that do not currently offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses, so that these courses can be offered online.

Making Schools Accountable

Michigan, meanwhile, sees another role for technology: making the state's schools more accountable to the parents.

Gov. John Engler announced plans to establish an Educational Performance and Information Center, to provide information about school performance to Michigan families. This program, run in conjunction with Standard & Poor's, will allow parents to see how their school district compares with others on standardized tests, spending and other measures. All data will be available on the World Wide Web.

All the data needed for such a project already exists, Engler said. EPIC simply will bring it together and make it easily accessible to parents, school leaders and the general public.

"Whatever the use, Michigan citizens will be better informed about our $13 billion investment in public education," he said.


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