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By Assemblyman Joe Simitian

SACRAMENTO – As over six million students start school in California this fall, I think about what schools should look like and what students should know by the time they graduate from high school.  I want schools to be stimulating places for students.  I want students to have a firm understanding of their academic subjects and graduate with a thirst and skills for further learning.  In addition, I believe that students should know how to use technology in order to excel in higher education and the workforce. 

For these reasons, I authored a bill this year, AB 620, with Assemblyman Howard Wayne (D-San Diego), to create 10 new high-tech high schools in California.  Governor Gray Davis asked me to carry the bill because of my background as a Silicon Valley legislator, Chair of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance, and former school board member. 

This legislation builds on other state initiatives, such as the Digital High School program, that bring technology directly into the classroom.  AB 620 authorizes the state to conduct a competitive grant program.  Ten public school districts will each receive $2 million in one-time funding, which they will then match with local dollars. 

These high-tech high schools will focus on a rigorous college preparatory curriculum with an emphasis in science, math, engineering, as well as digital arts and media.  Students will meet state academic standards, and the schools will provide evaluation reports to the state. 

What will set these schools apart from traditional high schools is that technology will be integrated throughout the curriculum.  All students will be able to access technology anytime in almost every classroom, rather than just in isolated labs.  Computers will become as common as pencils as a tool for both teaching and learning. 

Rather than doing a standard book report, students will create interactive web sites with literary analyses, graphics, sound, on-line bulletin boards and links to related sites.  Some students may interview authors using digital video cameras and produce clips and videos.  Instead of completing math worksheets and plotting points on graph paper, students will create 3-D computer-generated models, collect and analyze data on spreadsheets, and convey their findings to their classmates through multimedia presentations.

While technology will be everywhere in these schools, it won’t be a cure-all nor will it replace good teachers or human interaction.  On the contrary, these schools will need top-notch teachers who can guide students through the rigorous curriculum, incorporate technology effectively as a tool, and work in a cutting-edge environment.

Students will spend a lot of time working in teams on projects, as well as interacting with other students and professionals from around the world via the Internet.  In addition, students will be participating in sports, clubs, and other extracurricular activities that don’t have any technological component.

Of course, these high-tech high schools might not be what every student and family wants.  And that’s okay.  These schools are intended to be one option of many for California’s high school students.  The bill is written to ensure that the selected schools are located throughout the state, and added consideration will be given to schools that serve high-poverty communities.

We already have several successful models of high-tech high schools in California.  AB 620 will allow us to expand a successful education concept and serve more students.  While these 10 high schools won’t look like the schools that I and others of my generation attended, they will go a long way toward preparing students for the technologically advanced society of the present and future, and success in the New Economy.   

AB 620 has already been approved by the State Assembly, but has thus far been delayed in the Senate.  Let’s hope that the Senate takes action soon, so that this bill and thousands of California students have a successful future.

(Assemblyman Joe Simitian (D - Palo Alto) is Chair of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance.)