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The National Education Technology Plan
Offers Action Steps for Success

On Friday, January 7, 2005, the U.S. Department of Education unveiled the National Education Technology Plan. Find out how NCLB started the ball rolling, why today's students are different, and what the DOE says educators must do to meet the needs of today's students. Included: Exclusive comments from National Educational Technology Director Susan Patrick.

On Friday, January 7, 2005, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) unveiled its National Education Technology Plan (NETP). According to Susan Patrick, director of the DOE's Office of Educational Technology, "The plan is a big picture vision of what is possible in education today using technology. It highlights the major challenges and opportunities. It gives us examples of success stories. And it gives us seven action steps and a series of recommendations, so that, depending on where you are in your use of technology, you can benchmark yourself against this framework."


The No Child Left Behind Act signed by President Bush in 2002 requires schools to address the achievement gap between rich and poor students and ensure that all students achieve academic success. Specifically, it mandates that:

  • All students should be able to read by 3rd grade.
  • All students should be tech literate by 8th grade.
  • Every classroom should have a highly qualified teacher by 2005.
  • All educational decisions should be based upon the best, most integrated data possible.

Thus, NCLB set the achievement bar very high for all schools. In many schools, despite increased funding and efforts, the goals of NCLB have not been reached. In part, the problem lies in the utilization of traditional teaching methods with students who no longer think and learn in traditional ways.

Tech is Changing Teaching Today!

Think the National Education Technology Plan describes a fantasy classroom? Think again! On the NETP's Web site are more than a dozen success stories from tiny schools in Alaska to massive district-wide laptop rollouts in Virginia. Check out these successes and share your own as well.

Today's student looks, acts, and thinks very differently than the student of yesterday. Members of the current K-12 generation -- called Millennials -- are multi-taskers, more proficient with technology than their teachers, more diverse (36percent are classified as non-white) than previous generations, and they spend more time online than they do watching television. They are interested in education, but increasingly find that school does not address their interests and abilities.

In his remarks at the launch of the National Education Technology Plan, former Department of Education Secretary Rod Paige, noted of today's students, "They have grown up with the World Wide Web at their fingertips. Many of them cannot even remember a world without the Internet. They see the potential for computers to revolutionize the classroom. And they are worried that schools are not keeping up with the times."


Faced with a disconnect between today's schools and today's students, the U.S. Department of Education teamed up with NetDay to hold Speak Up Day 2003, during which 200,000 students from all 50 states shared their thoughts about technology.

The result of that survey is the National Education Technology Plan, which highlights the challenge of improving test scores among an increasingly tech-savvy student population while using traditional teaching methodologies, and emphasizes what it calls "e-learning" and virtual schools. The plan highlights various schools and districts where such learning already is taking place and notes that 25 percent of public K-12 schools offer some form of e-learning or virtual schools right now.

The plan suggests, however, that the U.S. education sector as a whole is slow to change, even as other countries' schools and the business sector have adapted quickly to the new information age. Accordingly, NETP offers seven action steps designed to effect real change in the classroom and to move the United States closer to transformative teaching with technology. Those steps call on educators to:

  1. Strengthen leadership: Increase tech proficiency among education leaders and build school/community partnerships.
  2. Pursue innovative budgeting: Look for new money within existing budgets by reallocating from other areas and investigating lease options.
  3. Improve teacher training: Train teachers in best practices for integrating technology.
  4. Support e-learning/virtual schools: Ensure that every child has reliable access to technology-infused learning.
  5. Encourage broadband access: Make sure all schools have consistent and supported access.
  6. Move toward digital content: Train teachers and students to identify and use quality digital content.
  7. Integrate data systems: Find ways to synthesize the many disparate databases of student information to provide a better picture of student needs and achievements.

Many educators have applauded the NETP's involvement of students in the decision-making process. Never before have students themselves had their voices heard so clearly in educational policy on a national level. Most also agree that NETP accurately portrays the state of American education, and that the action steps themselves are laudable goals. Nevertheless, many educators have expressed concern, both about the plan itself and about how it will be financed.

With no new funding and no mandate for states, districts, or other entities to increase funding for school technology, those educators are concerned that NETP is simply one more push to do more with less. As budget cuts decrease staffing, materials, and other resources in many K-12 schools, NETP, while good in theory, strikes many as practically unrealistic. Plan proponents argue, however, that the money is there, but simply allocated inappropriately. This new emphasis on technology, argues OET Director Susan Patrick, demands a "systemic transformation of how money is allocated."

Nancy Willard, executive director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet, argues, however, that the plan's emphasis on bandwidth, e-learning, digital content, and virtual schools in the report's text in effect "pushes" the purchase of new technologies, to the benefit of the business world but not necessarily that of the education world. She writes, "in my opinion, the National Educational Technology Plan is not a plan that focuses on the educational needs of kids -- it is a business growth plan for the educational technology and Internet companies."

Susan Patrick agrees that business and education are different fields. She told Education World, however, that, "the lesson to draw from the corporate world is that when businesses simply scanned forms online they didn't find that performance or profits increased. When you just add technology into existing structures, you add costs, but not benefit. You have to rethink how you do things, restructure environments, simplify, do things digitally, and provide real-time access to information, just as the business world has learned to do."

Another concern about NETP was expressed recently by officials at the National Center on Disability and Access to Education (NCDAE). That organization's leaders argue that the needs of students with disabilities are not addressed in the plan. NCDAE says that 8.5 percent of Americans have a disability that impacts their ability to use a computer, and expresses concern that students in that category might be left behind if the federal government does not specifically spell out ways in which they too can participate in the changing face of education and technology.

In response, Patrick states that, although input both from students with disabilities and from such educational institutions as the New Jersey School for the Deaf was taken into consideration during the report's formulation, the plan was drafted to encompass the needs of all students, not any specific group of students. Moreover, Patrick contends, included in the action step calling for digital content is a recommendation to ensure that such content is accessible to all students.

In the months and years ahead, the value and impact of NETP will be addressed by educators and policymakers. Until then, however, its portrayal of the disconnect between tech-savvy students and outdated teaching methodologies should cause educators to stop and reflect on what's really happening in the classroom.

How should K-12 teachers use the National Education Technology Plan? What is the role of information literacy in the report? What is the single most important action step? Next month, Education World learns the answers to these and other questions in an interview with Susan Patrick, director of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Technology, and the chief architect of NETP. Don't miss it!

Article by Lorrie Jackson
Education World®
Copyright © 2005 Education World