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Benefits of Employing Information Technology in a School Curriculum

Introduction:

Technology has assumed a major role in higher education; the personal computer is today as necessary a tool as pen and paper was for hundreds of years. In the early grades, information technology has arrived in the form of various teaching devices to introduce students to concepts in arithmetic, reading, and other subjects, with programmed instruction geared to the young learner. At the secondary level, technology has also been introduced, though with less programmed instruction and with some budgetary constraints preventing the full implementation of computer technology to the degree seen in higher education. One of the many budgetary constraints includes students in special education programs not being offered the tuition they need to further their computer literacy. However, schools do see themselves as having a role in preparing students for the computer-oriented world they will encounter once they graduate - and for the increased use of information technology in higher education as well. The effect of the introduction of such technology has been widespread, diffusing into the grading scale, better resources, and as a balance for subjective multiple choice test scores.

Technology In Schools: What it Means

Much of the literature on the impact of technology in secondary education centers on questions of what sort of technology to implement for the future. This also involves an assessment of the technology already used to see if it should be purchased again.

Systems that have been adopted have changed the way content is delivered and given students more possibilities for research. Some of these changes have been mandated, as in the Arizona case where specific requirements have been set forth in law. The Arizona State Legislature created laws stating minimum standards of Internet access for every school. The law states that along with teacher websites and student email addresses, each school classroom must have content-safe, high-speed Internet access. Schools have also been helped by funding from corporations of various types, many of which see the need for a workforce in the future that is fully adept at using the new information technology, or that has some stake in assuring that a well-trained public is developed. Companies focusing on engineering and mathematics offer computer help to students, and some programs are more extensive.

The United States has spent more than $19 billion to develop an information technology infrastructure in local schools, districts and classrooms, so that now the number of schools connected to the Internet exceeds 90 percent, with the ratio of students to computers in most schools dropping to a low of 5:1 compared to a ratio of 26:1 a decade ago. However, the authors also point out that it is more important to measure the type of technology in use, and the problem is that most of the purchases have been at the low end so that the platforms purchased do not allow for the use of high quality software of the latest configurations. An added problem is that the teachers themselves are not as well-trained on this technology as they should be.

An additional motivation for implementing new and better technology in education is seen in the passage in 2002 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a bi-partisan bill to provide additional funding to schools, especially schools in low socioeconomic neighbourhoods. Part of the law includes a requirement to test all students in grades 3-8 in reading and math. The bill authorized a good deal of needed research.

Emerging information technology will continue to be utilized in a wide variety of teaching and administrative activities, including instruction, accessing data, keeping records, interconnecting schools and districts, giving educators more control over the learning situation, expanding the learning situation to reach outside the classroom both to find information elsewhere, to connect the student to the classroom even from home, and so on.

The Intersection of Special Education and Information Technology:

Technology has a particular role in education for students with special requirements. A problem noted for the gifted child is that he or she may not be sufficiently challenged by the existing curriculum while the use of new technologies can expand the reach of education and improve the outcome. While understanding how to interest these students is seen as a major issue, there is general agreement that leaving the gifted in their age-specific class is not a good idea, and it is also often stated that the schools are simply failing these children. Reis speaks about how the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented completed a study on third and fourth grade children in several thousand public schools and private schools in the United States and found that advanced students were often not skipping grades. They were placed into classrooms with their peers, regardless of how advanced they were. In this study, it was found that gifted students, when forced to stay in their original classroom and learn the same academic information as students their age, looked bored, drowsy and indifferent about participating or volunteering to help in the classroom. Teachers may have regarded this behavior as them being rebellious, but in reality, students were so far ahead that they really didn’t see the need to be there. They already knew the material and the learning wasn’t a challenge for them. Another study revealed that more than eighty percent of advanced students were placed into the same classrooms as their peers, with the same instructions.

Solomon reports on one program that has made full use of new technologies to empower gifted children and to give them a way of expanding their own horizons, and this program points to how parents can help with a computer and modem. Middle school students in Eugene, Oregon use three online networks to help them learn about energy, geography, the homeless, the Soviet Union, and more. These students attend the Bethel School District's Talented and Gifted program (TAG). The purpose of the TAG program is to provide students with enrichment that extends through all curriculum areas, and the computer makes it possible to do this in a way that is individualized and that encourages individual initiative as well. The program is hampered in that it only has one computer, but its success points the way to other programs using the computer as a tool for keeping the interest of the gifted in their own education. More and more, the issue of whether to place gifted children in special classes is a choice between doing too little or nothing at all.

The special education program is funded by both the state and federal governments. Special education mandates cost federal and local taxpayers between $30 and $50 billion each year, though it is believed that this money is not spent in an efficient manner. The special education system developed as the result of civil rights legislation and because of a federal aid program. Since 1973, the civil rights laws have barred discrimination against the handicapped. The federal aid program was enacted in 1975 and declares that every disabled child must be provided a suitable education which is tailored to suit his or her unique needs, whatever those needs may be. Washington at its peak covered about 12 percent of the cost, but the federal share today has been reduced to about 7 percent, leaving states and localities with the rest of the costs. The two approaches to the issue started in response to wrongs perpetrated within the educational system. Many handicapped students did not attend school at all in the early 1970s, and a series of successful lawsuits sought change and secured handicapped children the right to public education almost everywhere. By 1975, only two states did not provide schooling for these children. However, leaving the matter to the states was a slow and patchy process at best, so it was decided that a federal program would bring the service to everyone and provide funds as well. Today, the system is complex and serves some five million or more youngsters. Each state is required to have a comprehensive plan for serving all disabled people ages three to twenty-one whether they are in school, the home, a hospital, or a jail. The more people a state serves the more federal money it receives. Each school system has to provide all the services required for each child's individual education plan, even if this means hiring more staff, paying tuition to private schools, or some other approach.

The law providing funding for special education is known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Critics see this system as extravagant and as usurping funds needed for general public education. The New York school district of Mahopac Central can serve as an example. It spends roughly $3.2 million on the transportation of its 4,400 students each year, and this is an average of $727 per child. However, $68,000 of that amount is spent on the transportation of just one child, a child whose classroom is nearly 400 miles away at the New York State School for the Blind in Batavia. The IDEA law sees to it that his transportation and education are paid for by Mahopac. The IDEA was created in 1975 to assist in leveling the playing field for disabled children, but since that time the law has moved beyond its original goal of ensuring adequate schooling and now provides some children with very expensive instruction. The law places no limit on the cost of special education and leaves school districts to pay the bills. The law will force Mahopac to spend $98,000 on the education and transportation of this one child each year, though officials in the district believe that he could get an appropriate education at a nearby regional school for $60,000 less. Other school districts face the same or similar problems.

The need for added funding from the federal government or some other sources is made apparent in the case of the state of New York. Many who participate in the special education program in New York also believe that it costs too much and that it needs to be repaired. A public forum was organized in 1994 to tell the New York State Education Department that the system was in trouble. This meeting was organized by Liliano Chiarello, president of the Nassau County Council on Special Education Parent-Teacher Associations. She did this after a 1991 study completed by the New York State Board of Regents recommended that the Committee on Special Education (CSE) process be reviewed. This committee determines what it believes to be an “appropriate instruction” for special education children. Angry parents have described the CSE as dictatorial and disrespectful. Long Island, where this meeting took place, has 34 percent of the state's pre-kindergarten special education students with only 14 percent of the population. It costs an average of $10,847 annually to educate a student in the public schools of Long Island, but it can cost more than $30,000 per special education student. Total student enrollment stopped 22.5 percent on Long Island from 1981 to 1991, but over the same period special education enrollment increased 28 percent. Special education costs over that same period increased 226 percent.

Because of the perception of a problem with special education in the New York school districts, Governor Pataki tried to develop a plan that would reduce the payments made by the state, which would only increase the costs to local districts. Even as the federal government was reducing payments to the states, the state was trying to reduce payments to local districts. Each shift only passed the costs down to the next level. Administrators say such a shift only means higher school taxes for many residents or a cut in programs. Tax increases would vary according to the size of the district and the size and costs of each special education program. Educators do not want to cut programs and so lean toward higher taxes. Different regions would need different amounts to continue to pay for the services now offered. It is estimated, for instance, that Farmingdale would need $1 million to cover the shortage, and half of this would be used to pay for the district's share of educating 84 pre-K students between ages three to five, enrolled in special education programs. Other types of program would also be affected by various Pataki proposals–categorical aid would be cut in half; no state money would be allowed for new students; there would be a cap on capital improvement aid; and operating aid would be frozen. The latter is the largest chunk of a district's budget. For Farmingdale, these cuts would mean another $500,000 would be needed. If taxes were to be raised to make up the difference, the district would need an additional $60 per household in school taxes. The governor claims that these proposals are meant to control the spiraling cost of special education by encouraging school districts to form alliances with other districts to provide similar curriculum needs, and it is claimed as well that New York pays some $3,000 more to educate a special-education student than the national average. The governor's representative says that schools have to be made more efficient and effective, and he says that by making school districts share the expenses of educating special-education children, schools will be more financially responsible. Some superintendents agree with the governor that there is a need to control the increasing cost of special-education programs, programs required by state law. However, they do not agree that the way to achieve this is to pass the higher costs to taxpayers in local districts. A given school district has virtually no say as to which special education programs a child should enroll in, for this is a decision that is left up to the parent. The superintendents state that it is thus unfair to ask that the districts come up with cheaper alternatives. It is not possible to start a new special education program in most districts because they do not have classroom space. The superintendent in Oyster Bay-East Norwich says that his district would need $135,000 to cover special education expenses, leading to a certain tax increase. In Hempstead, it was found that the district in 1996 would spend $3.5 million more than what the voters had approved, so any loss of state money would compound the problem. Bethpage school district already faces revenue loss, perhaps in the millions. Rockville Center school district has 378 students in special education programs and would need another $329,000 to keep its programs intact. Students in poorer districts are more likely to see regular programs cut and staff reduced, and this would be especially true if these districts could not cut back on the shortage with new tax revenues.

Implementing needed technological upgrades only adds to this cost, while the evidence continues to mount that technology can serve the needs of this population in a way other changes might not. Special education costs have been cited as responsible for flat or decreasing spending on regular education students in many districts across the country. Some believe that this will eventually bankrupt the system. Educators do not like to discuss this because they do not want to say that special education children are robbing “normal” children of educational funding. A confrontation between the two seems to be brewing, and this is a confrontation that no one envisioned two decades ago when Congress enacted badly needed laws to rescue special education students from classes in school boiler rooms. Congress guaranteed that they would have an “appropriate” education, but it was not possible to predict the rising numbers of children damaged at birth because their mothers were drug abusers or alcoholics, the soaring number of children diagnosed with ill-defined “learning disorders,” the disabilities arising from the poor getting poorer, or the dramatic new delivery-room technology that saves the lives of scores of children while often setting in motion disturbing learning problems that will only surface later in life. The federal government agreed originally to pay 40 percent of the costs, and now the government is stating that it will only pay 6 percent. This clearly creates a problem for every locality that has such a program. While local school spending has been flat, special education expense, that’s protected by law, must come from the top of the budget, and they stand at about 2.3 times the expenses for regular students. The latter is based on a formula developed years ago that is now doubted by many who see it as an underestimation. Special education students currently constitute about 12 percent of the school population, though they absorb about four out of every ten new dollars added to school budgets according to the Economic Policy Institute. Some note the degree to which spending has increased on special education and point out that this is a good thing–twenty years ago these students were getting nothing, and now they are getting more what they should. There are likely to be higher costs for schools now meeting their legal responsibilities, these commentators note.

Information Technology's Role in Grade Testing and Other Functions:

Technology has also been brought to bear on other educational processes, such as testing and grading, both in the classroom and on broader scales for assessing education and its outcomes for the purpose of accountability. Computerized testing has invaded education as other realms in an ongoing process.

One clear reason for the spread of computerized testing is economic, for this approach is considered to be more flexible and less costly than traditional testing methods. Olson agrees and indicates that the most important use of the computer in testing is to measure student progress rapidly. One reason why this form of testing is seen as so effective is that students today are familiar and comfortable with technology, so the use of computerized testing is seen as adding to student dissatisfaction.

One of the elements associated with testing that is also affected by the use of the computer is grading. Opponents of grading see it as spurring competition, and they find that this is not the best way to get people to learn. One problem with grading is that there does not seem to be objective standards across a whole curriculum so that the criteria of one instructor is different from those of another. This leaves students judging not just their own grades but the person who gave them the grade, and this creates a situation of uncertainty about how meaningful a given grade is. Requirements should be more stringent so that students know what their grades really mean no matter who their teacher may be.

Competition is common in American society. When some people go to work at a claims company, they may find that the scores for closing out insurance claims are posted for everyone to see. When people go to sports tournaments, not only are the scores posted for each team, but the statistics for each player are also displayed. On baseball cards, the statistics for each player are plain as day, and a sports fan can easily tell who’s better at what. Stores compete worldwide for the best prices. Wal-Mart and Target or Costco and Sam’s Club even go so far as to mystery shop each other to see who’s prices are lower. A photo technician at Wal*mart can walk into the photo department of Target with a list of things to look at and write down the prices, so he/she can immediately take this list back to their manager to decrease prices. Commercials compete to be better than the last. Advertising companies make sure that their commercials point out that “that other brand” doesn’t do this or do that. It’s normal in American society to try to outdo each other. Grading in the education system is the same kind of competition.

However, there are other rationales for grading, and grading has been used for a long time. Grading by letters was apparently well established by the end of the nineteenth century. Alternatives have been used as well, such as numbers only, words only (honors, pass, fail, etc.), and comments only, but most schools have not seen the need to use these alternatives or do not believe that they improve on the rationale of the letter grading system. Indeed, many have found that while these alternatives may have their own advantages, they merely employ the rationale of letter grading in a less direct fashion.

There are two basic rationales underlying the grading system, one pertaining to decision-making, the other to self-understanding. For educators, the grading system in either case is usually seen as only a convenient means to important goals. Decision-making has to be accomplished in a number of arenas, and grading makes this easier. Graduate and professional schools must decide which applicants will be able to excel in their programs. Employers want to know which applicants have the necessary skills, the ability to learn, and the potential required to fill the position offered. Colleges must decide whether any given student is capable of gaining knowledge from the courses of study provided. Parents of students also want to decide whether a child should go on to college or choose a different route. Organizations granting scholarships need to know where is the best place to invest their money.

The area of self understanding refers primarily to students, for they want to know where they stand in this or that field and this or that endeavor. In a deeper sense, they may want to know whether they are college material. However, self-understanding can also refer to teachers, who also must be able to assess how well they are teaching and reaching students who are hard to reach. However, making the system work better for students could include making it clearer to the students how they should view grades and how they should use grades to their personal advantage.

The fact that this system can be made to work, however, does not mean it could not be improved. A recent suggestion in this regard would make better use of current technology to create reporting instruments which can report in real time. Greenwood notes that grades should be used differently than they are today and present more qualitative information. Greenwood holds that if educators themselves participate in the new advancements involving new technologies in education, then education can mutate itself, and as part of this process, he believes that the report card as we now know it will disappear within a few years. Currently other methods are already in use, including portfolios and various types of demonstration and exhibition. Greenwood finds such an approach highly gratifying for teacher, administrator, student, and parent, standing as a record of progress over the past year.

One problem with grading is that there do not seem to be objective standards across a whole curriculum so that the criteria of one instructor are different from those of another. This leaves students judging not just their own grades but the person who gave them the grade, and this creates a situation of uncertainty about how meaningful a given grade is. This is another source of unwanted competition–students compete not with themselves and not with other students but with the teacher they happen to have drawn. Greenwood notes this as a problem when she writes about how many grading scales . We can easily see that grades and standards differ from teacher to teacher, school to school, district to district, and even day to day, with certain teachers giving students little understanding of what is expected of them or of what they may have achieved.

Philip notes how grading tests, term papers, and other projects can be a subjective process. The system would benefit from a clearer set of objective standards that would be applied across the board. Teachers do need discretion, but students need consistency more if they are to benefit from the grading system. A fair and objective set of criteria would help make grades more accepted, for the need for grades is well-established, as Colwell notes. Some system is necessary, says Colwell, in order to determine the need for change, what sort of change to perform, and how well change has worked.

The further implementation of computerized testing can also lead to computerized grading, with efficient standards that can be more clearly stated when those standards are uniform from school to school and district to district. Technology can make this possible, though the change is likely to create its own critics among those who then see a need for tempering decisions with subjective evaluations.

Existing disparities in subject matter can be found in subject after subject even before subjective grading is considered. Teachers agree that subjective grading has more importance in qualitative areas that are not heavily based on concrete facts. Both English literature courses and history courses do involve the ability to recall and provide facts, but such objective testing is only part of the course in most cases, supplemented more and more by written essays and term papers showing expanded knowledge and ability. Traditionally, of course, tests , extended from high school years are more commonly multiple choice than essay in form, and while this seems more objective, it does not serve to illuminate the degree of knowledge the student has accumulated as well as essay tests would. Steele states that essays can test higher‑level cognitive skills, and while objective tests can also test higher‑level skills, it is on a more limited basis. Every test should have questions whose content and style is determined by the course objectives. When students are required to think laterally, analyze or recombine data, or reach their own conclusions, the essay is the most effective test. Essays require analysis and the recombining of known facts into new configurations. But when students simply need to rote learn facts to regurgitate later the essay is clearly not the most effective tool for the job.

Grading written material, though, is much more problematic but is necessary in subjects such as English composition, literature, history, philosophy, and various social studies. Teachers agreed as well that grading can vary considerably from room to room and even class to class and that biases may enter into the process at a variety of points. However, there is less agreement on what to do about it or on whether anything can be done about it at all. Many believe that experience brings the ability to be more objective and fair, but how to measure experience to determine when an individual achieves the necessary could be nearly impossible. In these courses as well, the curriculum may vary from class to class and school to school, and different states again have different requirements and different materials. Creating a uniform grading standard again may be difficult, and while it should not be seen as a placebo, it could be accomplished to the degree that grades would be more meaningful for the purpose of comparison. Such a move would require a federal role.

But considering the fact that the federal government is not technically supposed to be in charge of education and education isn’t on the United States Constitution, state and local government have been known to take over in this area. But the federal government has repeatedly put money into the educational system and consequently made themselves the leaders in educational decisions, as does most funding systems that put money into a project. The money spent in education has switched from one particular area of study to higher levels of money involved.

But in order for the education process to change and standardized tests to be manipulated, the federal government must see the need to change it. Actually, most changes in the educational system has to run by the federal government before it is approved by the state or local government, considering they put in the largest amount of money by means of vouchers.

Conclusion:

Technology has had an impact on secondary education by providing new means of instruction, assessment, grading, record-keeping, and so on, with more changes to come. Some of these changes increase test objectivity, while they may also add to student satisfaction and increase student interest. The fact that young people today are comfortable with technology only adds to the value of technology in the classroom. Technology would bridge the gap between special education programs, the subjective grading scale (ex. tests vs. teacher’s opinions), and the supply demand for teaching and researching tools. With more funding, these resources could help advanced students reach their proper level of learning, suitable technology training for teachers, and self-understanding for students moving into the technologically-dominant work force. Not only will this advance test grades, but technology will also improve the teacher-student relationship by helping the ratio grow between the two.

References

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