From the Editor

Teacher Access to Technology

Where did January go? You'll see that there are lots of headlines this week, many coming out of announcements made at the Florida Educational Technology Conference. I didn't make it to FETC this year, though I've been at more of the shows 32 annual events than I care to admit. I have not had the chance to talk to anyone who did attend, but the show's 500 or so exhibitors were enough to keep anyone busy. This would be a good week to be sure you click though to the News Alert web site.  When there is so much news, I only feature one headline from a company. Multiple releases from the same company, stories I typically post in the Announcements section and some releases about product updates are posted at the web site, so you will want to check to be sure you don't miss anything.  Inside, a few thoughts on the latest survey from PBS LearningMedia about teachers and technology and the continuing stir around teacher evaluation.

PBS LearningMedia used the FETC stage to announce results from its annual national survey of K-12 teachers focused on their use of technology. The "sound bite" that's getting a lot of play is the fact that only 22% of teachers believe that they have the right level of technology in their classrooms. This won't surprise anyone in the technology or educational publishing industry very much. I was presenting some data from MDR's EdNET Insight research the other day where one of the issues we looked at was barriers to greater use of digital resources and was struck by the fact that the barriers reported on - not enough computers in the classroom, not enough teacher training or prep time, problems scheduling time in the computer lab - were eerily the same as responses to a similar question 10 years ago.

We've all heard this complaint for much too long but each year it gets more disturbing. This is especially so when we remember that the "next generation" of assessments being developed right now by the PARCC and SBAC will be administered for the first time in the 2014-15 school year, delivered online and taking advantage of new computer-enhanced test items designed to measure deeper understanding of content.
The concern is compounded when you see that roughly two-thirds of teachers cited budget as the biggest barrier to accessing tech in the classroom. While teachers are not always the best judge of how much is being spent or planned for spending, they are joined in this concern by district leaders. Money is tight right now and while things are beginning to improve, time is short.

The survey also reinforced the "resource gap" issue. Teachers in affluent communities have greater access, bigger budgets, and more parental and school board support for tech in the classroom compared to those teaching in low-income communities.

It's easy to spot a problem. Real solutions are harder to come by. Technology access (and a better understanding of how technology should be used), budgets, school reform, students achievement … it's all rolled up together and there is a tendency in American education to solve problems one at a time, even while talking about systemic efforts.  And those one at a time solutions too often turn into new problems. I saw a story today from the Christian Science Monitor about how principals are saying that the new teacher evaluation demands are eating up time - time that was already in short supply. It's not that principals don't support better evaluation, which involves classroom observation; it's that finding the time to do it well is really hard. That should have been obvious from the start as the feds started pushing for more (and better) teacher evaluation and the states bought in, too often in hopes of winning an advantage in the Race to the Top competition. Now the waivers process extends the teacher evaluation demand beyond the winning RTTT states. There's talk of peer observation and input, but observation skills need to be taught and how do we free up teachers to observe their peers? And then there's the problem of how to have test scores count for X% of a teacher's evaluation in grades and subjects where students aren't tested annually. One solution - the wrong one in my book -- is to develop and administer tests for all those currently untested areas. None of this is to say that it shouldn't be done, but it seems clearer every day that what we need at heart is a total redesign and rethinking or roles, responsibilities and rewards. That's a challenge worth taking on.