COMMITMENT TO TECHNOLOGY NECESSARY TO ACHIEVE FIRST IN AMERICA STATUS
Have you ever thought what it would be like if you had to share a computer with several co-workers? If you had to wait weeks, if not months, to have someone repair your computer? Or, what it would be like if you didn't have a computer at all? According to a 1998-99 survey of 115 of North Carolina's 117 public school systems, many students and teachers are in that situation.
The survey, which was conducted by the Department of Public Instruction's Educational Technologies Section, found that one in 12 students have access to a computer with Internet service with only slightly over half (56 percent) of the classrooms having Internet access. The numbers improve somewhat to 1 student in 6, when all instructional computers are considered. "Gov. Hunt has challenged North Carolina schools to be First in America by 2010. To accomplish this goal, we need our students to have ready access to up-to-date technological tools," said State Superintendent Mike Ward.
Not only is it important for all students to have access to computers that are networked to the Internet, it is equally important that schools have the technical support to install and maintain the computers on a timely basis. The survey found that North Carolina public school systems provide technical support at a ratio of 1 technician to 800 computers. Businesses provide technical support at a ratio of 1 technician to 50 computers. In addition, only 16 percent of public schools have a full-time school-based instructional technology coordinator. North Carolina has however, provided an average of 21 hours of technology training for teachers compared with only 11 hours for the rest of the nation. Teachers also must obtain 3 hours of credit in technology when pursuing re-certification.
Currently, school technology is primarily funded through the School Technology Trust Fund, an interest-bearing, non-reverting account that receives appropriations from the General Assembly. The original request for this fund was for $342 million over five years. In 1995, North Carolina legislators appropriated $42 million. This amount has dwindled to a $10 million appropriation in 1999. A total of $121.5 million has been appropriated to the fund.
The N.C. legislature has made the commitment to invest $50 million over five years toward the funding of NC WISE, a student information management system that gives teachers and administrators access to student testing records and instructional resources and helps them manage portfolios of student work.
A similar resource, NC WISE OWL, is available for students but is currently funded through the federal Technology Literacy Challenge Grant. This web-based product also gives students access to a host of continually updated resources including newspapers, periodicals and encyclopedias from school and/or home.
Both initiatives provide much needed resources for administrators, teachers and students alike. Unfortunately, lack of computers with Internet access presents another gap issue that must be addressed if equity in access is to be achieved.
Debra Clark Jones, associate superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction's Information and Technology Services, said creating a technology-infused learning environment across the state will remain a challenge as long as technology spending is viewed as a one-time expense. "Our classrooms are the labs for learning and preparation. We need to make sure that the tools in those classrooms are always relevant to keep pace with what is going on in the real world. To accomplish this, you need a reliable source of revenue," said Clark Jones.
She suggested that one way to achieve this would be to move technology into a school's operating budget. "Once in the operational budget, schools would have the structure to budget expenses associated with equipment and software upgrades, user training, and technical support on an ongoing basis," said Clark Jones. This is not a goal that can be achieved without partnership. It will take local and state governments working together to ensure continued technology funds. Continued partnerships and investments from the business community also are critical factors.
The state has placed increased emphasis on the importance of technology by requiring that students (effective with the graduating class of 2001) pass a computer skills test in order to receive a high school diploma and that teachers seeking re-certification dedicate at least three hours, of the required 15 credits, to technology instruction.
For additional information, contact Frances Bradburn, director, Educational Technologies, DPI, 919.807.3292.
About the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 126 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state's public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.
For more information:
NCDPI Communication and Information Division, 919.807.3450.