HB2 (which started as HB4 and HB2 in the regular session) could change the face of Texas public education in dramatic and fundamental ways. In this post I offer observations and analysis related to the possible instructional technology impacts, specifically: 1) The latest version retains the change of the word “textbook” to “instructional materials.” What will this mean? 2) All instructional materials will have to be accessible. 3) What will districts who issue laptops to students be able to do if they are lost or stolen? 4) How are Texas school districts going to pay for all this new technology? 5) How are more schools going to be able to immerse with one-to-one laptop initiatives similar to the TxTIP project? 

On 30 June 2005, the Texas Legislature passed an “engrossed” version House Bill 2, which I blogged about several times this past spring in its early version as HB4 (House Bill 4 Could Dramatically Shape the Face of Public Education, Would House Bill 4 lead to the elimination of district level educational technology departments?, and Sad to see the textbook lobby resort to personal attacks in the HB4 discussion) The fulltext version of the new bill is available, which was printed and distributed in the legislature yesterday (Tues July 5th).

I have not fully analyzed the legislation, but a brief scan seems to indicate several things which relate to instructional technology in Texas schools:

1. The latest version retains the change of the word “textbook” to “instructional materials.” This is a huge change and could have major instructional and financial implications for Texas school districts — required in the past to expend all textbook funds for hardcover, paper textbooks. The textbook lobby (which understandably wants to maintain its virtual monopoly on textbook sales to the state and nation) would like at worst to see this change limited and grandfathered in, at best not done at all. It appears this change IS going to move forward in this legislation.

This is specifically addressed in:

“SECTION 2E.17. Sections 31.002(1), (2), and (4), Education Code, are amended to read as follows:
(1) “Instructional material” [“Electronic textbook”] means a medium for conveying information to a student. The term includes a book, supplementary materials, a combination of a book and supplementary materials, computer software, interactive videodisc, magnetic media, CD-ROM, computer courseware, on-line services, an electronic medium, or other means of conveying information to the student or otherwise contributing to the learning process through electronic means.
(2) “Publisher” means a person who prepares instructional materials for sale or distribution to educational institutions. The term includes an on-line service or a developer or distributor of [an] electronic instructional materials [textbook].”

This change in the education code is needed. Hopefully Texas school boards and district leaders will take advantage of the flexibility this will afford to better prepare students for their future, rather than our past. As David Warlick has noted, many schools are doing a great job today preparing students for the 1950s. Unfortunately for them, we are living in 2005 and preparing kids for vocational and life success in an informational environment that is both qualitatively and quantitatively VERY different from the culture in which adults grew up.

2. All instructional materials will have to be accessible. Again from the latest legislation version:

“Sec. 31.028. SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONAL MATERIALS [TEXTBOOKS].

(a) The State Board of Education may provide for [purchase] special instructional materials [textbooks] for the education of blind and visually impaired students in public schools. In addition, for a teacher who is blind or visually impaired, the board shall provide a teacher’s edition in Braille or large type, as requested by the teacher, for each printed instructional material [textbook] the teacher uses in the instruction of students. The printed teacher edition must be available at the same time the printed student instructional materials [textbooks] become available.

(b) The publisher of an approved printed instructional material [adopted textbook] shall provide the agency with computerized [textbook] files for the production of Braille instructional materials [textbooks] or other versions of instructional materials [textbooks] to be used by students with disabilities, on request of the State Board of Education. A publisher shall arrange the computerized [textbook] files in one of several optional formats specified by the State Board of Education.

(c) The board shall require electronic instructional materials submitted for approval under Section 31.0251 to comply with the standards established under Section 508, Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. Section 794d)”

While Section 508 has been law for many years, many electronic instructional materials are currently NOT legally “accessible.” This is an important requirement which will hopefully be vigorously followed by all instructional materials publishers.

3. What will districts who issue laptops to students be able to do if they are lost or stolen?

It looks like, as with textbooks now, districts will be able to require students to check their laptops in at the end of the day and NOT take them home in this case. It does not seem to indicate that a school district could deprive students access to a laptop or functionally equivalent computing device at school if their is lost/stolen, if required instructional materials are being accessed electronically by other students. This is addressed in:

“Sec. 31.104. DISTRIBUTION AND HANDLING.

(d) Each student, or the student’s parent or guardian, is responsible for each instructional material [textbook] not returned by the student. A student who fails to return all instructional materials [textbooks] forfeits the right to free instructional materials [textbooks] until each instructional material [textbook] previously issued but not returned is paid for by the student, parent, or guardian. As provided by policy of the
board of trustees [or governing body], a school district [or open-enrollment charter school] may waive or reduce the payment requirement if the student is from a low-income family. The district [or school] shall allow the student to use instructional materials [textbooks] at school during each school day. If an instructional material [a textbook] is not returned or paid for, the district [or school] may withhold the student’s records. A
district [or school] may not, under this subsection, prevent a student from graduating, participating in a graduation ceremony, or receiving a diploma.”

4. How are Texas school districts going to pay for all this new technology? The new technology allotment” for schools provides a gradually increasing pot of dollars for schools to use for technology needs:

Sec. 32.005. INSTRUCTIONAL MATERIALS AND TECHNOLOGY ALLOTMENT.
SECTION 2E.37. Effective September 1, 2005, Section 32.005, Education Code, is amended by amending Subsections (a) and (b) and adding Subsection (d) to read as follows:
(a) Each school district is entitled to an allotment of $50 [$30] for each student in average daily attendance or a different
amount for any year provided by appropriation.
(b) An allotment under this section may be used only to:
(1) provide for the purchase by school districts of instructional materials [electronic textbooks] or technological equipment that contributes to student learning; and
(2) pay for training educational personnel directly involved in student learning in the appropriate use of electronic instructional materials [textbooks] and for providing for access to technological equipment for instructional use.
(d) This subsection applies only if the pilot project established under Section 54.2161 is implemented. In addition to amounts to which the district is entitled under Subsection (a), a school district is entitled to an amount sufficient for the district to pay the costs of textbooks for students participating in the pilot project established under Section 54.2161. This subsection expires August 15, 2009.

SECTION 2E.38. Effective September 1, 2006, Section 32.005, Education Code, is amended by amending Subsection (a) and adding
Subsection (a-1) to read as follows:
(a) Each school district is entitled to an allotment of $125 [$30] for each student in average daily attendance or a different amount for any year provided by appropriation.
(a-1) From the funds a school district receives under Subsection (a), the district shall use an amount equal to $50 for each student in average daily attendance to fund targeted technology programs under Section 32.006. A school district shall use funds for targeted technology programs in a manner that allows each student and teacher assigned to a targeted campus, grade level on a campus, or specific educational program to benefit from a targeted technology program. The commissioner shall adopt rules concerning the use of funds under this subsection. This subsection expires August 31, 2007.

SECTION 2E.39. Effective September 1, 2007, Section 32.005, Education Code, is amended by amending Subsection (a) and adding Subsection (a-1) to read as follows:
(a) Each school district is entitled to an allotment of $150 [$30] for each student in average daily attendance or a different amount for any year provided by appropriation.
(a-1) From the funds a school district receives under Subsection (a), the district shall use an amount equal to $60 for each student in average daily attendance to fund targeted technology programs under Section 32.006. A school district shall use funds for targeted technology programs in a manner that allows each student and teacher assigned to a targeted campus, grade level on a campus, or specific educational program to benefit from a targeted technology program. The commissioner shall adopt rules concerning the use of funds under this subsection.”

5. How are more schools going to be able to immerse with one-to-one laptop initiatives similar to the TxTIP project? This appears to be the legislature attempting to boilerplate the TxTIP model (www.txtip.info) statewide, in phases as targeted / pilot projects.

“Sec. 32.006. TARGETED TECHNOLOGY PROGRAMS.

(a) Each school district shall use funds designated for targeted technology programs under Section 32.005(a-1) in accordance with this section and in a manner consistent with the long-range plan developed by the State Board of Education under Section 32.001 and the district’s own technology plan. A school district may use funds from other sources, including grants, donations, and state and federal funds, to provide targeted technology programs.

(b) A targeted technology program must provide for each student and teacher at a targeted campus or grade level on a targeted campus:
(1) the provision of:
(A) wireless electronic mobile computing devices;
(B) productivity software and hardware, including writing, computation, presentation, printing, and communication tools;
(C) electronic learning software aligned with the essential knowledge and skills adopted by the State Board of Education under Section 28.002;
(D) library and other research tools;
(E) electronic assessment tools;
(F) electronic learning tools to improve communications among students, teachers, school administrators, parents, and the community; and
(G) classroom management systems;
(2) professional development for teachers to integrate the tools and solutions described by Subdivision (1); or
(3) the provision of other infrastructure, components, and technologies to support and enhance student performance through individual instruction programs.

(c) The Legislative Budget Board shall:
(1) conduct a biennial study of the cost of school district targeted technology programs, including the cost of implementing those programs on a statewide basis; and
(2) based on the results of the study required by Subdivision
(1), make recommendations to the legislature before the beginning of each regular session of the legislature concerning statewide implementation of targeted technology programs.
(d) Each biennium, the Legislative Budget Board and the commissioner shall jointly conduct a performance evaluation of school district targeted technology programs.”

The items listed in the proposed legislation above in bold purple text are identical to the elements in the vendor RFP released by TEA for the TxTIP project (2004-2006 grant project – www.tea.state.tx.us/opge/disc/tip/). To see what some of these cutting edge, best in class “electronic learning software” programs and “library and research tools look like,” link to the “Package Summaries” (PDF format files) from Apple and Dell. Many of these are superb resources and tools, which SHOULD be in the hands of all Texas students and teachers. In the case of TEKS aligned “instructional materials” included with the Apple package, these include:

netTrekker – An award-winning, safe academic Internet search engine
Beyond Books from Apex Learning – Reading, science, and social studies online
– ClassTools Math from Apex Learning (BoxerMath) – Complete math instruction
ExploreLearning Math and Science – Supplemental math/science curriculum component
KidBiz3000 from Achieve3000 – Critical and engaging differentiated reading instruction
MY Access Writing from Vantage Learning – Increase student writing proficiency

These are the types of software tools school districts need to be buying, instead of more standardized test score benchmarking and aggregation learning management systems!!!! I blogged at the end of June in my TEKS update blog about “School districts spending more $$$ on data management systems for test score improvement.” Our legislators and administrators NEED TO RECOGNIZE THAT MORE INFORMATION ABOUT STUDENT TEST SCORES IS NOT GOING TO SOLVE THE DEEP ROOTED PROBLEMS WE HAVE IN EDUCATION!!! (Have any of our legislators read “Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology” by Neil Postman? Perhaps they all should!) Will one to one technology immersion serve as a transformative, positive agent of change in Texas classrooms? Is it already? My doctoral research / dissertation that I’ll be starting this fall will analyze that very question.

These changes sound exciting and promising for Texas schools. But the multi-million dollar question (literally) remains, HOW IS OUR LEGISLATURE GOING TO FUND THESE AND OTHER EDUCATIONAL EXPENSES?

I hope the answer is “fully and equitably.” Given the past track record of our legislative body, however, I am not holding my breath. This legislation is ridiculously long (413 pages in the PDF version) and I did not even attempt to analyze the financial implications here, some of which ARE included in the bill. But those may indeed be the most important elements….. certainly in the short term for Texas school districts.

This article from the Austin-American Statesman on July 1st (“Senate passes schools plan in record time”) indicates there are BIG differences between the House version of this legislation (which I have partially reviewed in this post) and the Senate version. I hope the compromise version retains at least the essential elements I’ve highlighted above from the House version.

A fundamental reason for having government is to provide for public education. Legislators, PLEASE step up to the plate and give our public schools the money they need and deserve to do not just an adequate job, but a REMARKABLE job preparing students for their future. 

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