As Federal Funding Disappears, So Do Computers From Classrooms

Many educators worry students won't be ready for college, technology-dependent working world.

Computers and the Internet have revolutionized dating and social networking, research and communication. So why are they missing from classrooms?

In February, President Bush slashed federal education spending by several billion dollars in his 2007 budget proposal, much of which the House Appropriations Committee recently upheld. These budget cuts have resulted in what many educators view as a significant setback in preparing students for life in the real world.

The No Child Left Behind Act has been controversial since its 2001 genesis (see "Bush's No Child Left Behind Act Gets A Failing Grade"). Most educators, however, have been supportive of the program's efforts to bridge the digital divide with more technology in the classroom.

But this goal is about to become a lot more difficult.

Among the most controversial of the education budget cuts is the phasing out of funding for the Enhancing Education Through Technology program. The plan was introduced to equip students with the technological know-how to succeed in our computer-dependent society, as well as to ensure that every student is technologically literate by the end of eighth grade, as dictated by No Child Left Behind.

Achieving technological literacy may not be so easy with the reduction of resources, however. The EETT was the sole source of educational technology funding for 14 states, according to a report by the State Educational Technology Directors Association.

"It's such a shortsighted strategy to be cutting funding when what we're talking about is global competitiveness, relevance and engaging education, and trying to meet the mandates of [No Child Left Behind]," said Don Knezek, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education. "All three of those require an investment in technology and technology skills."

While most educators decry additional cuts to the already paltry education technology funding, the U.S. Department of Education supports Bush's cuts and the elimination of funding to the 42 programs deemed ineffective or unnecessary, including the EETT.

"This budget request soundly targets resources where they are needed most and working best," said Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings in response to Bush's initial budget proposal in February. "It will enable us to continue to deliver results for all children under No Child Left Behind, and it tackles our vital priority to improve our global competitiveness by targeting achievement in math and science. The president made all of this possible in a post-Katrina environment while upholding his commitment to reduce the deficit."

Despite the Department of Education's blessing, many educators refuse to sit by while the government puts students' futures in jeopardy.

Prior to the House's decision on the cuts, Mission Critical, a campaign to advance federal funding for K-12 education technology, submitted a petition with 7,000 signatures requesting the restoration of federal funds to the 2005 level: $496 million.

Endorsed by such groups as the National Education Association and the National School Boards Association, the petition emphasized the need for EETT funding in order to meet the standards set by No Child Left Behind, as well as to ready students for life in the U.S.'s technology-dominated society. The North American Council for Online Learning also sent a letter of concern to the House Appropriations Committee urging lawmakers to rethink the cuts.

Educators also speculate that the students that need technology training the most are the ones who will be hardest-hit by budget cuts. Some underprivileged youth might not have access to computers and the Internet at home, and school is the only place where computer skills are developed.

In 2003, an estimated 25 percent of students did not have access to a computer at home. Black and Hispanic children are less likely than their Caucasian and Asian peers to have access to a computer at home, according to the Child Trends DataBank.

The lack of exposure to technology could perpetuate poverty as well. Without basic computer skills, many students will not be prepared for higher education or jobs. This lack of computer skills could force disadvantaged youth into low-paying jobs with little chance for advancement.

On the other end of the scale, in today's computer-dominated society, students are often bored by traditional teaching methods and yearn for modern technology in lesson plans. Knezek's organization has found that many students have dropped out of school not because of an inability to keep up but because of boredom.

"We know that about 80 percent of those students were easily within reach of graduating. They told us they were confident that they could graduate," Knezek said. "But what we find out is that [school] was just so irrelevant and unengaging for them without modern tools and without a modern curriculum that they elected not to stay in school — and that's just a tragedy."

Despite cuts to education technology programs, funding was increased for No Child Left Behind and programs targeting at-risk students struggling with reading and math. Educators nationwide remain concerned, however, about the lack of educational technology funding and the consequences this will have on students entering the real world.

"Today's reality is that 40 percent of our nation's high schools cannot access a college preparatory curriculum," Susan Patrick, North American Council for Online Learning president, wrote in her letter to the House Appropriations Committee. "This is a national tragedy. The need is greater than ever for our young people — and their teachers — to master 21st century technology learning skills."