- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2007

U.S. schools must better use technology in the classroom to help prepare today’s children for the global economy and workplace, education professionals say.

“What we’ve realized recently is that students without those foundations in technology skills and information skills are not only at a disadvantage for applying for jobs, but also in learning,” said Don Knezek, the chief operating officer of the International Society for Technology in Education, a nonprofit organization that promotes the use of technology in education.

A panel of education professionals emphasized the importance of education technology at a forum last week at the National Press Club. The forum was sponsored by networking company Cisco Systems Inc.

A majority of the 7,000 U.S. residents surveyed in a recent poll expressed support for increased technology in classrooms. Fifty-nine percent of people in a Cisco-sponsored poll released last week said more should be done to incorporate information technology into the learning process.

School officials in the Washington area say they agree technology is important and are constantly working to improve the technology available to teachers and students.

But limited funding is often a problem for the D.C. Public Schools, Stanley Johnson, the executive director of the division of instructional technology, said in an e-mail. Mr. Johnson said the school system, which enrolls more than 60,000 students, is not funded at the same level as surrounding school districts, which often slows or halts officials’ plans to expand technology.

“It is very challenging for the school system to meet our goal of creating globally competitive students with the current limited level of resources available to the school system,” he said.

Other districts reported fewer challenges.

For example, Alexandria City Public Schools started wiring its schools in the early 1990s. Additionally, every teacher is given a laptop and every classroom has three computers, said Chris Sieger, director of information technology for the school district. The system, which enrolls about 10,000 students, is entering its fourth year of providing its roughly 3,000 ninth through 12th graders classroom wireless Internet access and a personal laptop.

“If you walk into our high school, there is absolutely no doubt that these kids are absolutely computer literate, whether they come from homes with lots of computers or homes with none. All of the kids are getting that exposure,” Mr. Sieger said.

While there are districts like Alexandria across the country, a majority of schools are still falling behind, education professionals say.

“On the average, we’ve mostly seen technology already layered on to what schools were already doing,” said Keith Kruger, the chief executive officer of the Consortium for School Networking, a nonprofit organization that represents K-12 technology professionals. Rather, he said, schools should use technology to open new ways of teaching.

Schoolsshould embrace technology in ways similar to how businesses have — by fully integrating it into everyday teaching, said Jennifer Cutler, a history and social studies teacher at McLean High School in Fairfax County.

“The one thing I’ve seen a lot of over my tenure of five years is, technology hasn’t really changed [in the classroom] the way it’s changed in the work force,” she said. “The kids use it at home, and it’s not being used in schools to its full advantage.”

Even schools with the technology resources available may not be using them correctly, the panel said. Simply sticking a few computers in a classroom is not enough.

Fairfax County Public Schools,with enrollment of more than 150,000 students, tries to target the problem through its technology-specialist program, in whichthose specialists are placed at every school to provide teachers with group or one-on-one training and support.

A 2004 National Education Association survey of educational technologies found that while a majority of educators said they had access to a computer at school, one of the biggest obstacles was for teachers to find the time and ways to use technology.

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