Laws are like sausages. It's better not to see them being made. - Otto von Bismarck
It was a rude wake-up coming back from my short vacation in northern New Mexico. I was notified by our state library-technology association lobbyist a few days ago that one of our pet tech bills would be heard by a House education committee this morning and she wanted me to testify along with another tech director. We plotted our strategy by phone Tuesday afternoon - me sitting in the beautiful Frijoles Canyon next to a 14th century Anasazi ruin in Bandelier National Monument. (As the LWW says, the good thing about cell phones is that you can get work done on vacation; the bad thing about cell phones is that you can get work done on vacation.) I got home last night, but I was back on the road driving to St. Paul by 5:30 this morning.
It's about a two hour drive to the Capitol. And two hours back, of course. A hour waiting for other bills to be heard, a half hour listening to legislators debate your bill, and another half hour after the committee meeting to debrief with the lobbyist. Six hours of which I was actively testifying for four and one half minutes about the importance of technology in education and why standards and a dedicated funding stream from the state would be a good thing. Patrick, the other tech director, took the administrative side of technology; I got the good stuff - the instructional side. Here is the gist of my talk:
Dear Committee Chair and Committee Members,
Thank you for allowing me to come speak to you this morning about this important bill, HF 988.
Today I represent not just my school district, but schools across Minnesota – both large and small, both rich and not so rich. Both parts of this bill, setting state standards for technology infrastructure and providing dedicated technology funding for schools so that they can meet those standards, I believe are necessary. Although I can’t offer empirical evidence about inequities among schools in Minnesota since no state data is officially collected, anecdotal information suggests huge disparities between districts and even between schools within districts.
Technology well-used is too important to our children for unequal access to exist within out state. We use technology for three main instructional purposes in our district, as I am sure it is used in most districts.
Online testing (NEWA MAPS) is now providing teachers with timely individualized student performance feedback. The teacher now has a detailed list of skill levels for every student as soon as the class leaves the computer lab. But knowing where students are is not enough. Resources are needed to provide differentiated instruction for sub groups and individuals not achieving grade level standards. Teachers need activities and instructional tools – reading programs, interactive white boards, and learning games, for example – that allow them to engage and teach every student in the class.
Technology also provides learning opportunities through distance education to students throughout the state. While larger districts can use online learning and ITV to offer esoteric courses such as Chinese and Arabic, our smaller schools depend on it for advanced math and science courses. By taking such courses, students are also learning how to learn in an online environment – one which they will encounter many times in their adult lives.
Most importantly, all “21st Century” learner skill sets, including our own state standards, acknowledge that students must learn and apply information and technology skills to be successful in current and future education and work environments. The draft of the newest ISTE student standards describes “What students should know and be able to do to learn effectively and live productively in an increasingly digital world …” with major technology applications and skills falling under these broad categories:I. Creativity and Innovation
II. Communication and Collaboration
III. Research and Information Retrieval
IV. Critical Thinking, Problem-Solving and Decision-Making
V. Digital Citizenship
VI. Technology Operations and Concepts
Without the technology, these skills will go unlearned, unpracticed and unapplied, leaving some Minnesota students at a significant disadvantage.
No current, consistent funding stream for networks, Internet access, staff and student hardware, technical support or staff development exists for schools in Minnesota. This makes planning difficult. There are no state expectations for districts to provide technology resources to students. This creates inequities.
Technology is about preparing students for future success as life-long learners, as information-problem solvers, and as good citizens in both the real and digital worlds.
In the most recent Education Counts survey, Minnesota received a grade of “D” in its use of technology in schools. One of the reasons I moved to Minnesota in the late 1980s was because of this state’s reputation as a national leader in educational technology. Do you remember MECC? Do you remember Plato Learning Systems? This was the home of Winebago Library Automation software, designed for schools. I think we can be a national leader in the use of educational technology again. But we must make the commitment.
I am sure you have your elevator speech, that 30 second blurb that quickly tells a stranger your purpose in life. In my role as director of media and technology, I see that teachers have the resources needed to teach all students to use information and technology to creatively solve problems, credibly answer questions, and to make learning a life-long habit. Do you have your four and a half minute legislative testimony?
The legislative process is tedious and often dispiriting. But if you get a chance to be involved in your state law-making, take it. It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.