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$17.4 million to help schools in Arizona go high tech

Next school year, Arizona schools will receive $17.4 million in federal money to buy technology, connect it to high-speed Internet, and train teachers to make it part of their everyday teaching.

That’s nearly four times the amount the federal government sent last year. It should help Arizona schools integrate technology into the classroom and catch up with the rest of the nation’s schools.

Most of the money for next school year, $12.4 million, is federal stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The other $5 million will come to Arizona from the regular federal education budget.

“In all this bad news, it’s a little bright spot,” said Cathy Poplin, who heads the state’s technology efforts for K-12 schools.

There has been a lot of talk about arming Arizona students with 21st-century skills so they will be prepared to compete in the global job market.

For all the talk, the state has struggled to get Internet access into classrooms that most Arizonans take for granted in their homes. Even in good times, state lawmakers established, but then failed to fund, two small school technology pilot projects.

Most districts relied on asking property owners for extra tax money or pursued private or government grants, while poor schools relied on a dwindling amount of dedicated federal funds. In the past three years, that money had nearly stopped. The amount sent to Arizona’s technology sunk to $4.7 million from $12.1 million.

“Through a lot of advocacy, we maintained a low rate, but we stayed alive,” Poplin said.

Now, the Obama administration has made classroom technology a high priority. Poplin said federal education officials will carefully monitor how the state spends the technology money, which will prompt her department to offer more “guidance” to schools on exactly how the technology money is used.

This will include intense teacher training with the goal of insuring all Arizona students are technologically literate by eighth grade.

About $6.2 million of the federal money is set aside for Arizona to dole out in competitive grants. Poplin and her counterparts in the 49 other states are developing common goals for awarding the stimulus grants to schools willing to create “21st Century Classrooms.” These rooms will offer a minimum amount of technology, with highly trained teachers, a technology coaching staff to support teachers and the equipment. Poplin expects the money to be available to schools before the next fiscal year begins on July 1.


School technology report card

Arizona received a mixed report card for school technology.

Use of Technology: A

This grade gauges how prepared a state is to integrate online learning in the classroom.

Average state score nationwide: B.

• All states have technology standards, or grade-level learning goals.

• For the past two years, Arizona has tested 40,000 fourth- and eighth-graders in technology learning goals, one of only 13 states to measure student progress.

• Arizona gets credit for being one of 29 states to establish an all-laptop school, but it’s really districts that are headed in this direction. Vail Unified in suburban Tucson created the state’s first laptop high school. Now, other districts and charter schools are creating smaller laptop learning programs. Arizona also provides complete online curriculum, also called virtual schools.

• Arizona is among 26 states to offer some statewide exams via computers, such as some vocational education courses.

Capacity to use technology: C

This grade measures how well a state is preparing teachers to integrate technology into student lesson plans in a way that improves student academic achievement.

Average state score nationwide: C+.

• Arizona has technology standards that teachers and administrators are expected to meet.

• Arizona has no requirement in place that teachers and administrators meet these standards prior to receiving or renewing their professional licenses.

Access to technology: D-

This grade indicates just how much technology is available to help teachers teach and students learn. It is based on the 2007-2008 school year.

Average state score nationwide: C.

• In Arizona, 89 percent of fourth-graders had access to computers. That’s below the national average of 95 percent. Less than 80 percent of the state’s eighth-grade students had access to computers, below the national average of 83 percent.

• In Arizona, there were 4.3 students for every computer connected to high speed Internet. The national average was 3.7 students for every computer connected to high speed Internet.

Source: Education Week’s Technology Counts 2009


Classroom technology’s slow, steady progress

Education Week’s “Technology Counts 2009″ is the 12th annual survey of how schools are using technology in the classroom. Research is still sparse on exactly how much students are benefiting by adding online learning to lesson plans.

While technology dominates many students’ lives outside of school, the trend toward technology in the classroom is making a much slower, yet steady, advance.

• By 2010, about half of all districts will have at least one 1-student to 1-computer school or a specialty program within a school. Online course work is most often combined with traditional classroom work and led by a teacher in the room. Michigan is the first state to require every student to take at least one online course before graduating from high school.

• This school year, students in 29 states including Arizona could attend a completely virtual school with a full curriculum online in all grade levels and subjects. That’s up from 16 schools in the 2002-03 school year.

• The lack of high-speed Internet connections is a major hurdle for schools who want more teachers and students proficient in technology, but districts report that they expect to increase bandwidth – the rate at which data is transported to computers – five times in the next five years.

• Online courses were once taken primarily by advanced high-school students but are increasingly being used by younger students and to help students who are struggling to keep up with grade-level skills.

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

In 2010, a power surge fried a server that contained all of videos linked to dozens of stories in this archive. Also, a server that contained all of the databases for dozens of stories was accidentally erased, so all of those links are broken as well. However, all of the text and photos that accompanied some stories have been preserved.

For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

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