Thursday, January 06, 2000

Ky. companies called tech laggards

State official wants business to get online

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ERLANGER — Kentucky schools are leaders when it comes to using technology, a state Education Department official said Wednesday. The problem: Business and the general public are not keeping pace. That means many new employees are leaving the state to work elsewhere.

        One solution: More concentrated technology training for all teachers.

        “I don't think that a lot of businesses in Kentucky have recognized that this is not a fad,” said David Couch, associate commissioner of education technology. “We have a big part of our population not having what it takes to compete.”

        Mr. Couch met with Northern Kentucky's school superintendents Wednesday to talk about how the Education Department will fund school technology programs in the next two years.

        Schools now receive $112 per student, based on average daily attendance, for buying equipment, software and other technology needs.

        Superintendents said poor communication between the state and schools is delaying receipt of those funds. Schools must fill out certain forms to receive their share. Mr. Couch said only 21 of the state's 176 school districts have received their technology money for the 1999-2000 year.

        “We've lost a whole year,” Southgate Schools Superintendent Bernard Sandfoss said.

        The delay in funding, combined with outdated equipment, had more than a dozen of the region's superintendents asking Mr. Couch for more flexibility in how schools spend their technology money.

        Mr. Couch said he would push for better communication between his office and school superintendents. He also said he would consider allowing schools to buy the latest equipment models, even if they are not yet on the state's approved purchase list.

        “It's like we're in the second quarter of a game,” Mr. Couch said. “We're doing well, but we still have a long way to go.”

        For example, the technology funding program was cited as the top economic development program in the state.

        And the state is moving education into the future with virtual libraries and classes for university and high school students.

        But according to a national survey, to be released this month, Kentucky ranks 46th for companies with an online presence and 47th for in-home online users.

        One way to improve those standings is to teach more of the population about the everyday use of computers and the Internet. But only about 20 percent of the state's teachers take advantage of technology training.

        Yet in a survey of teachers and principals, 77 percent of teachers said they support technology standards, Mr. Couch said.

        The challenge for schools, Mr. Couch said, is to find a way to reach the large number of teachers not participating in the group training.

        Mr. Couch said schools should consider hiring technology staff to provide one-on-one training. For teachers, fear of embarrassment and lack of time are the barriers to large-session computer workshops.

        Short, individualized sessions are what teachers said helps them learn how to incorporate available technology into an English or math lesson.

        Schools have limited funds to spend on technology and likely can not meet the industry standard of six technology staff for every 100 employees. Mr. Couch suggests schools use student expertise.

        Schools can also stay ahead in technology by putting more computer work stations in high school classrooms to give students access outside computer labs.


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