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May 1, 2000     (512) 463-0300

The Advisory Council on the Digital Economy examines technology and education at the State Capitol

AUSTIN - The Advisory Council on the Digital Economy held its second meeting, Friday, April 28, 2000, in the Senate Chamber. Lt. Governor Rick Perry appointed the council to help keep Texas at the edge of high technology research, development, and job creation. The Lt. Governor ordered the committee to study three charges during the interim.

Today's meeting focused on charge 2. Its objective is to enhance Texas' position as a leader in the digital economy. The council will consider strategies to develop a more educated workforce. Specifically, the council will consider:

  1. Which improvements in K-12 mathematics and science education programs might help meet the workforce needs of the high tech industry.
  2. How to improve the technology training for primary and secondary school teachers and how technology can be more fully integrated into the curriculum of Texas's schools.
  3. Whether current high school technology programs meet the workforce needs of the high tech industry.
  4. How Texas' community colleges can be key to addressing the workforce demands of the high tech industry.
  5. How to encourage the movement of technology from university laboratories into Texas' high tech companies.
Chairman Mike Maples called the meeting to order and Perry introduced the subject of discussion. He referred to the importance of education, saying it is the best crime prevention program we can have in the state. The Lt. Governor mentioned the improvements Texas is achieving in test results, especially among minorities. He also mentioned the end of social promotion and the new challenges Texas faces in applying available technology to schools, community colleges and universities.

Immediately after Perry, Chairman Mike Maples introduced the council's work plan, and the panels which participated in the meeting.

The first panel gave a presentation about the application of technology in grades K to12. The group included Chase Untermeyer, Chair of the Texas State Board of Education; Geoff Fletcher, Executive Director of T.H.E. Institute; Dan McCormack, Education Technology Consultant of Apple Computer Corporation; Pam Tackett, Executive Director of the State Board for Educator Certification; Deborah Jolly, of the Texas A&M College of Education; Carole Ann Bonds, Superintendent of Rogers ISD; and Jim Wells and Tim Stephenson, of Project EAST from Paragould, Arkansas.

Untermeyer detailed the advances of education reform, which focus on results, accountability, and doing away with excuses for social promotion. He said one of the results of the reform is that minorities and the school population in general are doing better on the TAAS tests. He mentioned the continuing problem of a teacher shortage, especially in math and sciences and bilingual and special education. Untermeyer proposed to partly solve this and the problem of teachers not certified in the subject they teach by the incorporation of distance learning in the classrooms. This is already done in some Houston schools. The state, he said, is also trying to recruit math and science teachers from foreign countries, as far away as Germany and India.

Geoff Fletcher proposed comprehensive changes in the education system, saying there is only one computer for every 13 students in Texas schools, and only 65% of teachers use the Internet. Technical support is also lacking in schools, with only one technician per 1,000 students. Fletcher said Texas is not training enough teachers in technology. His recommendations for the high tech industry are:

  1. to help provide each teacher with a computer;
  2. to share their knowledge with the schools;
  3. to help connect parents and teachers through computers;
  4. to create public and private entrepreneurial initiatives.

Fletcher said although its importance seems obvious, we do not have good measures about the impact of technology or computer use in education. He also proposed paying extra to math and science teachers to attract trained people to the profession.

Dan McCormack of Apple Computers started with a visual presentation of easy-to-use chemistry software for high schools. He said we have to help teachers learn to change the way they teach, and apply systemic training instead of technological training as an option. McCormack said there are 250,000 teachers in Texas, and each should have a computer. He added that school leaders, like principals, have a big influence on how much technology teachers use in the classrooms.

Pam Tackett also referred to the problem of a teachers shortage. Twenty percent of high school algebra teachers are not certified in the subject. In computer science, 75% are not certified. Only 10% of Texas teachers teach math or science. Each year, Texas certifies 500 math teachers and 800 science teachers, which is not enough to meet the demand. Even worse, many of those certified do not even enter the profession. Teachers have also a high turnover rate, 30% of them abandon their jobs by the third year, 50% by the fifth year. As a partial solution, she mentioned innovative programs to train teachers, like UTeach at the University of Texas.

Carole Ann Bonds, a superintendent, was joined by two of her students. She said her district, Rogers ISD, is poor, with most of her students qualifying for the free lunch program. Nevertheless, her schools are distinguished for their use of technology. By using computers, the students have researched and found solutions to community problems, like the high incidence of tooth decay for lack of fluoride in the water, cricket infestation in schools, and the restoration and cleaning of a local lake. Jim Wells and Tim Stephenson gave a visual presentation of their program in Arkansas. The program prepares the students for the workforce, focusing on critical thinking, oral and written communications skills, and teamwork. After 3 years, their program is used in 93 schools in Arkansas, and they plan to cover two thirds of the state schools in the next two years. The successful program creates a performance-based and active learning environment. They explained its success because it is a collaborative effort of the community. Using this technology-based method, the students at one school have, for example, designed their future Fine Arts building.

Deborah Jolly presented the results of a 1998-1999 study about applied technology in all Texas colleges and universities. The study shows:

  1. limited availability of computer equipment;
  2. lack of faculty training;
  3. no expectations for teachers to incorporate technology in the classrooms;
  4. lack of funds for program that foment the use of technology; and
  5. lack of technical support.

Jolly said that, overall, grades K to 12 have access to more funds for technology than do colleges and universities.

The second panel gave presentations about technology in community colleges. The group included Rey Garcia, Executive Director of the Texas Association of Community Colleges; Richard Fonte, President of Austin Community College; and William Wenrich, Chancellor of the Dallas County Community College System. The participants talked about different current and future programs for the use of technology in these schools. Their recommendation was to form partnerships between schools and the business community, strengthening the link between the technological industry and its future workers, through high schools and college teachers. They also mentioned problems like lack of equipment, lack of funds, and the high drop out rates in high school students. The panelists mentioned the diverse composition of community colleges, which attract a high number of older people, minorities, and low-income residents. Forty percent of community college students follow technical studies.

The third and last panel dealt with technology in universities. The group included David Nance, President and CEO of Introgen Therapeutics; Terry Young, Executive Director of Technology Licensing Office, Texas A&M; and John Sibley Butler, Chair, Management Department of the University of Texas at Austin. Nance and Young talked about technology transfer, the licensing and commercialization of products or services developed through the universities' lab research. They said that Texas is not focusing enough on research, running the risk of falling behind in this highly competitive market. For instance, Texas universities' investment in patents is much lower than California's. They said our state is also behind California in the number of university-based start up companies. Both panelists recommended more support and more programs to foster business growth and technological commercialization. John Sibley Butler said part of the problem is that faculty members are rewarded by how much they research and publish, not for what happens to the product or service after that, or how successful their commercialization is. A different witness added that the University of Texas has transferred its technology knowledge to the community, but that these learning institutions do not have to follow the business model.

The 21 members from the private sector appointed by Lt. Governor Perry to the Advisory Council on the Digital Economy are: Mike Maples, formerly the Vice President of Worldwide Products at Microsoft, serving as council chair; Andrew Busey, CEO of living.com; Michael Capellas, CEO of Compaq Corporation; Ken DeAngelis, partner of Austin Ventures; Thomas (Tom) Engibous, Chairman, CEO and President of Texas Instruments; Bob Fabbio, partner of TL Ventures; Donald Hackett, President and CEO of drkoop.com, Inc.; Dr. Katherine Hammer, President and CEO of Evolutionary Technologies International; John Hime, private investor; Christy Jones, President of pcOrder.com; Terrell B. Jones, President of Travelocity.com; James H. Lee, President of Tradescape.com Securities LLC; John McCain, Senior Vice President, E Solutions, EDS; Dick Moeller, President and CEO of VTEL Corporation; Dennis E. Murphree, Managing General Partner of Murphree Venture Partners; David G. Nance, President and CEO of Introgen Therapeutics Inc.; Kevin Rollins, Vice-chairman of Dell Computer Corporation; David Sikora, CEO and Chairman of Question.com; James Truchard, President and CEO of National Instruments; and Max Watson, CEO of BMC Software.

Perry also appointed four Senators to the council; Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin, Rodney Ellis of Houston, Steve Ogden of College Station and Florence Shapiro of Plano.

The council stands adjourned subjected to the call of its chair.

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