Senator Mike Enzi: Better Education for Students and Teachers Act, S.1
In a Senate floor speech this week, U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., spoke on the merits of increased technology in classrooms, emphasizing that technology can, “open a child’s eyes to a world they might otherwise never have a chance to experience.”
Enzi also commented on the overall value of the Better Education for Students and Teachers (BEST) Act, S.1., which is currently being debated on the Senate floor.
Enzi’s statement on technology follows his comments on the BEST Act. The text is below.
Senator Mike Enzi
Better Education for Students and Teachers Act, S.1
Mr. President, we are debating education, and we are debating a new direction in education. The new direction we are talking about is increased flexibility so that the schools can use the money to the best advantage possible.
I am really pleased to see a lot of funds come to Wyoming. But there was a small amount that we could not use. By the time we wanted to hire the required administrator, there was no money left in the program. Now we will be able to combine those programs and have fewer administrators and, hopefully, less paperwork.
To listen to the debate, it grows more and more to sound as if the Federal Government should fund all of education . The States fund 93 to 94 percent of education . What we are trying to do is to allow them to use the money–that little bit of money they get from the Federal Government–as effectively as possible.
I had an intern who worked for me. He had been a principal at a school and he got a leave of absence. He came to Washington and did a little checking to see what happened to the paperwork he had to fill out for years and years. He was delighted to find that every piece of paper he sent back to Washington was well read. It washington; the money does not get to the classroom.
Throughout the debate, you will hear that we do not provide the money for–fill in the blank–or we do not provide enough money for–fill in the blank. Remember, what the Federal Government is doing is providing about 6 to 7 percent of the local funds. It is a .
But it sounds to me, from a lot of the discussion, that it is time we press the States to make sure they are providing an equal education . It has not been our fault that some schools get a lot more funding and some schools get a lot less funding. There are some exceptions, and we try to take care of those exceptions. But I do not think we are placing nearly enough pressure on the States to do the job of having equality that would solve a lot of the problems we are talking about in this Chamber.
(Technology in Education)
But today I mainly want to talk about the issue of technology.
Mr. President, as a former computer programmer and someone who is very interested in technology and all its applications, I am glad to know that increasing access to technology has been receiving national attention. While technology can never replace a caring, qualified teacher or involved parents, it can open a child’s eyes to worlds they might otherwise never have a chance to experience. I firmly believe that the educational opportunities afforded by technology can and should be harnessed in a child’s pursuit of academic success.
There is also evidence that the need for skilled workers is rising and technology is becoming an increasingly valuable asset as students move from the classroom into the job market. I have been disappointed to see that over the past few years the Federal Government has tried to support educational technology through a fragmented set of programs with money flowing through multiple bureaucratic agencies. This kind of disorganized Federal funding has generated a tremendous amount of bureaucratic redtape that has not helped States and local school districts ensure that all children have access to technology.
The legislation that we are debating today, the overall bill, S. 1, the Better Education for Students and Teachers Act, changes all this. It consolidates current technology programs authorized through the Elementary and secondary Education Act to create a targeted State formula program geared towards improving the use of technology in the classroom. This change in the structure of Federal technology programs is a great thing for small or predominantly rural States such as Wyoming, which may not receive enough money from a particular categorical program, as I mentioned earlier, to effectively achieve the goal of increasing technology.
When this legislation passes, Wyoming will have the ability to use Federal funds to implement the technology programs they believe will be most useful to students. This legislation also makes it easier for States that may not have the resources to hire a professional grant writer and are therefore at a disadvantage when it comes to applying for the competitive grants that have traditionally been used to allocate technology funding.
Under this new formula, States will have the flexibility to implement technology to support and expand school reform efforts with a focus on improving student achievement and academic performance, provide ongoing professional development to help integrate technology into school curriculum, acquire hardware and software, and repair and maintain school technology equipment.
The Better Education for Students and Teachers Act supports a comprehensive system to effectively use technology in elementary and secondary schools to improve academic achievement and student performance. Specifically, the goal of title II, part C of this legislation is to assist every student in crossing the digital divide by ensuring that every child is technologically literate by the time they finish the eighth grade.
With the increasing national focus on technology, I am pleased to report the State of Wyoming has determined that technology is so critical to their educational success that they have put considerable time and effort into the development, ongoing implementation, and revision of a comprehensive education technology plan. This plan does a great job of identifying Wyoming’s needs, defining our infrastructure requirements, articulating goals for educational technology, and proposing strategies for achieving these goals. It was complied by teachers, school boards, communities, libraries, State agencies, businesses, and other interested citizens from around the State.
Wyoming outlined some ambitious objectives in their technology plan, such as establishing educational partnerships among public and private entities, implementing improved professional development geared towards technology, integrating technology into instructional delivery systems, providing equal access to interactive information resources for all students, and creating an evaluation process to determine if their plan is working. As Federal legislators we must clear away any obstacles and unnecessary redtape that would slow or stop the implementation of the goals that so many people in Wyoming have worked so hard to develop.
I would also like to stress that the appropriate use of technology in education can and should go beyond the classroom. For example, Wyoming has also done a great job of utilizing Federal technology funds in an innovative way by establishing a website–that is, www.wyoming.edgate.org–that provides services for students, teachers and parents. If you want to know how your child’s school is doing, you can go to the web site and find out. This website also allows teachers to access innovative curriculum ideas, gain information about professional development options, or access the latest information on teaching techniques. Students can get help on their homework. They can view notes from their teachers, or even research a science project. Parents have the ability to check on their child’s homework assignments, gain information on options for paying for college, get ideas about how to talk to their kids about drugs, or even check their school’s test scores to ensure instant accountability. While Wyoming was able to use Federal funds for this program, current law required the State to expend valuable time and resources to get a waiver from the Federal Government.
I am also very pleased with Wyoming’s efforts to develop a distance education system that will allow kids in any high school across the State to participate in courses such as advanced placement English and calculus, Japanese, Russian, art history, sociology, anthropology, and on and on.
It has made selection of classes in the very rural schools much greater than it was before.
Considering the rural and sometimes geographically isolated nature of some of Wyoming’s communities, it is a tremendous asset. This type of distance learning will allow an unprecedented level of educational equity in my State, where students in small schools that serve 20 students or less will be able to receive the same diversity in course offerings as students in the much larger schools. It will also allow areas that have difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers to share in the teaching expertise of other areas of the State without traveling the miles and miles and miles.
The same distance learning system also provides Wyoming with great opportunities for providing continuity in our professional development programs. Teachers from around the State will now have the chance to participate in proven and effective professional development that will improve the educational opportunities for all of our students.
Speaking of professional development efforts that incorporate technology , I have been very impressed by the work of project WYO.BEST. This pilot program in Platte County School District No. 1 in Wheatland, WY, has been working to help teachers improve their ability to teach in a standards-based, technology-enriched environment geared towards improving student learning and achievement, and they have been doing this since 1997. Over 100 teachers in southeast Wyoming have received sustained training and mentoring in student-centered instructional approaches, in standards-based instruction, and in technology integration. All of this has been done under the guidance of their director of instruction, Roger Clark. I take this opportunity to commend him for his efforts.
The progress that has been made by the State of Wyoming is impressive, but we are certainly not alone. States across the country have been making tremendous progress not only in incorporating effective uses of technology in the classroom but in preparing students to pursue technical careers after graduation.
A good example of this is the PPEP TECH High School in Tucson, AZ, which I recently had a chance to visit. This school is part of a publicly financed statewide system that provides an alternative educational program for students age 15 through 21 in grades 9-12. The school’s primary focus is on providing high academic standards and technological training for the children of migrant and seasonal farm workers in rural Arizona and for at-risk students, high school dropouts, or students who work. Each student is actively engaged in an individualized educational program that helps them obtain a high school diploma, improve their job skills, and continue on the post-secondary education.
Laptop computers and 1-800 numbers allow the children of migrant workers to move frequently and still work with the same teachers. They submit their homework; they get their grades by using the Internet. Here is an effort to make sure that no child is left behind.
I have also been very impressed with the efforts of an organization called the JASON Project. This organization offers students and teachers in grades 4-9 a comprehensive multimedia approach to enhanced teaching and learning in science, technology , math, geography, and associated disciplines. Included in the project’s components are State-aligned curricula, video programming, satellite transmissions, on-line activities, and professional development training. Hands-on learning is provided for the visual learners, while sounds help oral learners to achieve. I am pleased to report that 35 teachers in Freemont County, WY, are currently preparing to receive training that will enable them to participate in this program.
The JASON Project provides a new program topic each year. For example, the 2001-2002 school topic of “Frozen Worlds” will take students and teachers on a virtual adventure of some of the colder regions of our planet and solar system, such as Alaska and the polar regions. Students will then examine research questions such as what are the dynamic systems of earth and space; how do these systems affect life on earth; what technologies do we use to study these systems; and why.
As you can see, there are many options that allow teachers and students to integrate technology into the classroom. Our first responsibility as Federal legislators is making sure States and local school districts have the ability to implement the programs they feel are most effective.
Once again, I commend my colleagues on the Health, Education , Labor and Pensions Committee on their hard work on this legislation. I intend to support S. 1 and any other legislation that helps States such as Wyoming by giving them the flexibility they need to determine the best way they can help their own students gain access to technology.
I encourage my colleagues to do the same.
Mr. President, I yield the floor and reserve the remainder of my time.