Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Testimony in Favor of Texas SB 6 Instructional Materials Allotment

Today I gave testimony in favor of the passage of Texas SB 6, which institutes an Instructional Materials Allotment (IMA) in lieu of the textbook allotment and the former Technology Allotment. SB 6, if passed into law, would give local school districts in Texas more discretionary control over how they spend state monies designated for instructional materials. No longer would they be compelled to purchase textbooks each year, but they would have freedom to choose digital content and the technological equipment necessary for students to access the digital content.

Jennifer Bergland has written about the companion bill in the House, HB 6, at the TCEA Advocacy blog here and here if you would like more detailed information. More information than you might ever want to know about the bill can be found on the Texas Legislature website.

Speaking of Jennifer, I owe her a thank-you for getting me involved in this process. I'll be writing more in a later blog post about my sudden involvement in the legislative process, but I don't want to wait until then to let Jennifer know how much I appreciate her guidance and encouragement.

Below is the content of my written testimony, which I summarized in a three minute oral testimony as well.

Thank you for hearing my testimony today.

My name is Sandy Kendell and I am a career educator. I have a master’s degree in Educational Technology Leadership and 18 years of experience in K-12 public education, including 8 years in the classroom, 6 years as a campus-level technology facilitator, and 4 years as a district-level instructional technology specialist in Georgetown ISD.

It is from all of these perspectives that I am here today to support the passage of SB6 and the resulting institution of an Instructional Materials Allotment. There are three primary reasons for my support of this bill.

First, the time when textbooks encompassed the sum of all knowledge needed in a course of study has passed us by. During the master’s degree I just completed, my learning came from traditional textbooks, video and multimedia presentations, articles pulled from research journals in digital format, online web resources, and an online textbook with links and multimedia embedded throughout to help me delve deeper into the curriculum I was studying. Everything I accessed was an instructional material with content relevant to my course of study. Expanding the definition of “instructional materials” to include but also move beyond a traditional print textbook acknowledges what we know to be true about the nature of education in 2011 and beyond – relevant instructional content can be found in a variety of formats, and each of those formats has the potential to speak to the diverse learning styles of our students.

Second, one of the aspects of being able to purchase digital instructional materials which excites me the most, and which my superintendent also highlighted when I conversed with him yesterday regarding SB6 and my testimony today, is the frequency with which digital materials can be updated as compared to traditional print materials. Depending on whose research you read, the sum of human knowledge doubles conservatively every five years and less conservatively every 18 months. To rely completely on bound print materials which may not contain the latest information even as they are published is to deny our students access to the latest knowledge. SB6 will allow districts to purchase materials which can be updated as soon as new breakthroughs come to light, whether they are breakthroughs in content or the best methods for delivering the content. Even as we learn more about learning itself, we can incorporate best practices through changing up lesson delivery models. Access to a variety of instructional materials will empower educators to teach students the latest information and problem solving skills using the latest proven instructional techniques.

Finally, inclusion of a provision for purchasing technological equipment and training using funds from the Instructional Materials Allotment is a key provision of SB6. According to the TEA Progress Report on the 2006-2020 Long Range Plan for Technology, released in December 2010, 59.3% of Texas educators rate themselves as developing in their use of technology in their classrooms in a primarily teacher-directed manner with students utilizing technology on an individual basis to complete assignments. Another 37.8% of Texas teachers self-reported as advanced in their use of instructional technology, which means they facilitate students’ use of technology in “work(ing) with peers and experts to evaluate information, analyze data and content in order to problem solve” and engage in higher order thinking and collaborative efforts.

The encouraging news is, Texas teachers are using technology. However, when the 2.1% of teachers who still rate themselves at a very beginning/early tech level are factored in, 99.1% of Texas teachers and classrooms still need to grow to the Target Tech level set by the State by for the year 2020. This level is exemplified by “Students hav(ing) on-demand access to all appropriate digital resources and technologies to complete activities that have been seamlessly integrated into all core content areas, providing learning opportunities beyond the classroom that are not otherwise possible.” School districts have been using the $30 per student Technology Allotment for the last 20 years to continually increase the integration of technology into teaching and learning. In the absence of Technology Allotment funding going forward, it is critical that districts have access to the funds in SB6’s Instructional Materials Allotment to provide the equipment for accessing digital resources as well as the training necessary to facilitate the pedagogical paradigm shift required to fully leverage these resources.

In conclusion, the structure of the proposed Instructional Materials Allotment in SB6 allows districts to move at their own pace in the utilization of nontraditional materials. If they so choose, they can continue to buy textbooks just as they always have. But for those who are moving toward Target Tech, the opportunity to bring in digital resources and the equipment to access those resources is critical. 2020, the date Texas set for Target Tech, is only nine years away, and districts need every resource possible at their disposal reach the target.

I encourage the passage of SB6 and implementation of the funding structure to begin this biennium.

Thank you.

*Statistics and quotations taken from the Texas Education Agency
2010 Progress Report on the Long-Range Plan for Technology, 2006-2020, accessed at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/WorkArea/linkit.aspx?LinkIdentifier=id&ItemID=2147490399&libID=2147490397
During the hearing process, Senator Shapiro, Chair of the Education Committee and sponsor of SB 6, noted that she would be bringing forth an amendment to delay the implementation of the Instructional Materials Allottment until after the most recent textbook proclamation 2011 was complete. I think this would be devistating considering that we will no longer have a designated Technology Allotment in Texas under current proposed budgets. To make that point, I went "off script" a little at the end of my testimony. I followed up this evening with emails to all of the senators on the committee regarding the importance of implementing the IMA as soon as possible. I tailored the emails depending on whether or not the senator was present at the committee meeting, but most of them looked very similar to this one:

Dear Senator X,

Thank you again for hearing my testimony in favor of SB 6 in the Education Committee hearing on Tuesday, March 29th.

I would like to reiterate that I believe it is crucial for the Instructional Materials Allotment (IMA) to be implemented in the 2011-2013 biennium. In addition to the decreased contribution of state funds which Texas school districts will receive this biennium, they have also lost the $30 per student Technology Allotment which has been moving technology education forward in our state for the past 20 years. Access to the funds in the IMA for purchasing digital resources as well as the technological equipment to support those resources is essential as we aim for Target Tech levels by 2020 as called for by the Texas Long Range Plan for Technology.

For your convenience, I have posted a copy of my testimony online at the following link:

http://tinyurl.com/SB6Testimony3-29-11

Thank you again for hearing my testimony and considering my request to implement the IMA immediately upon passage of SB6.

Score one for democracy! Most of the day was spent watching others testify on other bills and then getting my own big three minutes to speak. The senators were gracious and encouraging, which made things easier. Except for the senator who asked me not to read since I had submitted a copy of my testimony, but to just summarize the highlights. That had been my intention, but his saying that threw me a bit. Witnesses claim I remained calm and collected on the outside. I'm glad of that, because my insides were Jello!

Speaking of witnessess, the committee meetings are streamed live on the Internet. I was encouraged to receive this Tweet shortly after my testimony:


Indeed, let's hope they listened! If you are a Texan and want to show your support for this bill, it would be great if you contacted them before Thursday when SB 6 will be discussed in committee again. Here is a list of the Senators on the committee, and here is where you can go to find out who represents you and how to contact them. 

3-30-11 Update: This afternoon, Senator Wendy Davis, who is on the Senate Education Committee but who is not the senator for my district, took time to send me a personal email (not a computer generated response) in reply to the follow-up email I sent her last evening. Here is what she said:

Thank you for sending your comments. I have printed them to review again.

Thank you also for your work as an educator. I am fighting to preserve funding for programs such as yours and appreciate your testimony and email.

Wendy
I was so surprised and impressed! It's a short note, but it is personal, and knowing how busy legislators are during session, the time she took to write it shows me that Ms. Davis is truly invested in her position as a representative of the people of Texas. In addition, during testimony on several bills Tuesday, Senator Davis was very attentive and asked good questions of those who testified. Thank you, Senator Davis, for your dedication to our state!



Gavel photo courtesy of flikr user steakpinball. Used with permission.
Source Link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/60588258@N00/3293465641/

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