Oregon’s leaders have set ambitious goals for 2025: Ensure that 40 percent of Oregonians earn a bachelor’s degree or higher; 40 percent earn an associate’s degree or postsecondary credential; and the remaining 20 percent earn a high school diploma or its equivalent.
At a recent event at Portland’s Multnomah County Library, I saw firsthand how Oregon’s educators were adopting new approaches to student learning—including greater use of technology—to meet those goals. They aren’t simply trading textbooks for netbooks; instead, they’re thinking deeply about how to integrate technology into their instruction to ensure student learning is more engaged, rigorous, and relevant.
For example, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) is developing a cutting-edge, specialized digital learning lab specifically for middle and high school students. In partnership with the Multnomah County Library, the OMSI will serve as a testing ground for the best ways to use digital media and state-of-the-art technology tools to improve student learning. Students in Forest Grove School District are using digital tools to write, blog, use online simulations, and design and create objects using a 3-D printer. And on February 6, Oregon will join forty-nine other states, the District of Columbia, and more than 20,000 teachers for Digital Learning Day, a national effort to promote digital learning and spotlight successful instructional technology practice in the classroom.
In my travels to schools across the country, experiences like these are helping students stay engaged in their learning and graduate better prepared for college and a career. That means Oregon’s work to incorporate technology into classrooms isn’t just an investment in new gadgets, it’s an investment in the state’s future. Consider the Portland metro area; if Portland were to cut its high school dropout rate in half, those new high school graduates would likely create 350 new jobs, inject $55 million to the local economy, and add $3.7 million to the state’s coffers in tax revenue. And that’s for just one class of dropouts. Given those numbers, it’s clear that the best economic stimulus is a diploma.
The next twenty-four months are a critical time for Oregon’s policymakers as they contend with constrained budgets and implement more rigorous education standards. Each school and school district must carefully examine its school improvement plans, technology plans, and federal e-rate applications and coordinate them with their specific goals for student learning. The objective is not about the having the latest technology; it’s about improving learning by implementing reliable, common-sense solutions that support teachers and empower students.
The nation has a moral and economic imperative to change the way teachers teach and students learn to ensure that every child graduates from high school with the skills necessary to succeed in college and today’s highly competitive job market. It’s time to stop asking students to “power down” when they enter the classroom and instead ask them to “power up” so that technology can join with quality teaching to improve student outcomes and drive the nation’s economy today and in the future.
Bob Wise is president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia.