Technology, curriculum mixing slightly better;
poverty still biggest block to techno equity – report

September 20, 2000

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Springfield – Illinois has done a good job giving its students and teachers access to the technology needed to learn and teach better. And that technology is starting to affect student achievement, according to a new report evaluating the use of technology in Illinois public schools.

“(Illinois’) investment in learning technologies appears to be paying off,” says the report by Westat, a Maryland-based research firm.

But, the report also says that many Illinois teachers need more and better training to use technology to bolster their lesson plans. And poor districts continue to lag behind their wealthier suburban peers in every technological category.

The State Board of Education today discussed the report as part of its regular monthly meeting. The State Board commissioned the research firm in 1998 to study how technology was being used in Illinois classrooms and its effect on student performance.

“This report confirms our long-held beliefs – that technology in the classroom without teacher training is nothing more than boxes and wires,” said State Superintendent of Education Glenn W. McGee.

“The State Board is committed to helping local districts improve students’ access to technology and training for teachers so that our children can achieve their highest potential, and our schools can be Second to None,” he said.

“Computers and other technology, effectively used can and will be an invaluable tool for our students,” added State Board Chairman Ron Gidwitz.  “As the hardware and wiring becomes more readily available, the State Board can be more proactive in helping teachers get access to the training they need and deserve.”

Westat praised the State Board’s efforts to help local districts acquire and integrate technology into the classroom, and its emphasis on policy supporting technology as a tool for learning.

Illinois’ access to more powerful, versatile computers increased significantly between Westat’s initial and follow-up surveys of school principals.

About 83 percent of all Illinois schools, including 97 percent of high schools, had Pentium computers in November 1999, up from 68 percent in May 1998.

Almost all Illinois schools (96 percent) were connected to Internet by November 1999, up from 82 percent in May 1998.

But, the average classroom has only 1.9 computers, which, Westat suggests, hinders teachers’ ability to take full advantage of the devices.

Chicago schools and schools in other high-poverty areas fall behind other Illinois districts with more resources in numerous important categories, including access to laptop computers, ratio of students to computers, number of computers per classroom and Internet access, the report said.

Teacher Training a Critical Need

But, the firm also said the State Board should encourage local districts to better motivate teachers to pursue more and deeper technology training.

Westat’s research found that, while the amount of classroom hardware has increased, most teachers’ understanding of how to use the equipment has not. The report blames such lack of knowledge on a paucity of high-quality professional development for teachers.

In all, about 68 percent of teachers had been trained to some degree in the use computers and software. But most of that training was limited to basic computing functions – i.e., word processing – rather than integrating education technology into the curriculum or using telecommunications.

Westat draws a direct line between inadequate teacher training and successful implementation of technology into curriculum. “Absent high-quality professional development, teachers will not know how to effectively infuse technology into their lessons or will be too intimidated to even try,” the report says.

“People have joked for a long time that most 8-year-olds know how to use computers better than adults,” McGee said. “That’s great material for comedians, but not for our classrooms. We must do a better job of helping our teachers understand how to use technology as a tool for information and discovery.”

The idea of mixing technology into the learning environment is a fairly recent development, the report says. Therefore, lacking a strong understanding of the benefits of such integration, teachers had little reason or motivation to seek more advanced training.

Finally, the report indicates that while poverty continues to be the strongest indicator of student achievement, technology usage is starting to impact student learning, mainly at higher grade levels.

“This finding…suggests that schools are putting into place the conditions for promoting higher achievement,” the report says.