State-funded study shows need for 'teaching with technology'

Computer training needed by teachers

A suggestion is that legislators rethink the way they are paying for school technology; Virginia is one of only three states using borrowed money.

By CHRISTINA NUCKOLS

The Roanoke Times, Saturday, November 21, 1998, page B1.

ABINGDON—Virginia is doing a good job of getting computers into classrooms, but many teachers still don't know what to do with them, state senators were told Friday.

The state has been spending about $50 million a year since 1994 to get computers to schoolchildren, but teachers aren't getting the training they need to incorporate technology into the curriculum, said Cheryl Lemke, vice president of the Milken Family Foundation.

Lemke's California-based foundation has been hired by the state Department of Education to evaluate the availability of technology in Virginia's schools. Its final report will be released next month, but Lemke discussed preliminary findings with the Senate Finance Committee during its annual budget retreat.

She said the state has been distributing all of ts technology funding to local school divisions vithout keeping any in Richmond to develop caching models and training programs. As a result, teachers aren't changing the way they each basic courses such as social sciences or biology to include computers.

"They're teaching about technology, not teaching with technology," she said. "Most teachers are ready and eager to use it but they really don't know how."

The state's new Standards of Learning only exacerbate the problem by creating a separate test for technology, she said, noting that most states integrate technology assessments into the tests for each academic subject. Lemke also objected to the SOLs' reliance on a pencil-and-paper test to measure technology skills.

Shannon Cahill, another consultant working with Lemke, said the teachers who are getting training still confront barriers when they try to use what they learn. She said many teachers complain that they get training on state-of-the-art equipment but have computers in their classrooms that lack Internet access. In other cases, schools don't have support technicians to keep computers working reliably, so teachers can't use them consistently with their classes.

Lemke suggested that legislators rethink the way they are paying for school technology. She said Virginia is one of only three states borrowing money via bond sales for that purpose. Because bonds aren't an ongoing source of revenue, local school systems are encouraged to use the money on equipment and not training programs or support staff.

Lemke said there are still disparities between schools concerning student access to computers. She said Chesapeake schools reported that they have one computer for every student, while Buckingham County has only one computer for every 32 students.

Sen. Yvonne Miller, D-Norfolk, said she fears many inner-city schools also are lagging.

"The equity issue is the cutting issue," she said. "Children are just as fascinated about computers in urban areas as they are in suburban areas", Lemke said one factor causing some schools to fall behind is the high cost of fiber-optic lines. She said the General Assembly could create its own fiber-optic system to ensure no schools are left out.

Christina Nuckols can be reached at (804) 897-1585 or christina@roanoke.com


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