Oct 31 2006

How Educators Can Meet Today's Challenges

Students can excel in a challenging and stimulating educational environment, but we need to discover what types of instruction and curriculum work best.

How do we educate today's kids for their future rather than our past? That’s the question posed by Pinellas County superintendent Clayton Wilcox on page 18 . And it’s a good one, but it’s also one of the biggest challenges facing educators today.

A former teacher and the father of a tech-savvy sixth-grader, Wilcox knows what many educators prefer not to admit: Most students can’t find the level of intellectual stimulation in the classroom that they’re able to handle.

Although Wilcox came to this conclusion based on years of experience, it’s the same concern that Scott Bush brings up in his letter to Ed Tech. (See Letters on page 8.) Bush, who is starting a master’s program in instructional technology in New York City, has already noticed the lack of interest and the dearth of technology tools in the typical classroom.

Our kids are savvier than we were growing up. They gravitate toward technology with an almost intuitive grasp of how to make it work for them. There’s something about our Technicolor, media-rich, tech-infused lifestyle that has changed the way young learners seek and internalize information.

Provided with the right environment, resources and instruction, most students are prepared to excel in a digital world. The problem is that many school districts and educators aren’t. For many, technology tools are as foreign and challenging as programming the VCR. And those who do understand technology still need assistance integrating tech tools into the way they teach.

According to CDW•G’s 2005 Teachers Talk Tech survey, while the majority of teachers view technology tools as critical to improving student academic performance, just over half integrate these tools into their daily curriculum. The main culprits: lack of computers and lack of training, combined with a lack of funds.

But as Chris Rother points out in her column on page 16, even with these problems, teachers continue to increase their tech skill levels, find unprecedented support from their administrators and rely on students for tech support. For more on the survey findings , turn to page 85.

Gaining Insights From Data

Margaret Spellings, U.S. secretary of education, addresses a different challenge—empowering leadership and educators with data—in her column on page 14. Spellings believes that longitudinal data systems can help provide better insights on how individual students are performing and the effectiveness of teaching programs.

Educational leadership needs to develop actionable insights from the data, which includes classroom-level instruction, as well as training programs. As Spellings aptly points out, spending also needs to be aligned with expectations to make this happen.

Once we accept that students can excel in a challenging, stimulating learning environment, then we need to test them to find out which types of instruction and curriculum work best. And federal and local administrators must find a way to get the right tools and training into the hands of educators.

Education is a serious, vital business. For most of us, our education—and the opportunities it helped foster—is one of our most valuable assets. But we’re facing a funding, training and curriculum challenge that won’t be addressed only by providing better tech tools.

Editor in Chief