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Tech discounts to help state teacher centers offer digital training

Teach for America members aren’t the only teachers to start getting digital tools from a technology giant.

A new partnership between a statewide network of teacher training centers and Microsoft will give teachers access to discounted computer hardware and software, and help using them. Announced this week, the Tech4Teachers program will flood New York State Teacher Centers with new technology options at lower than market-rates. There are 250 center sites in New York City and 130 more throughout the state, offering in-person and virtual assistance to public and private school teachers.

Microsoft’s assistance comes at a time when state budget cuts have constrained resources at the teacher centers, which provide professional support in the form of online and face-to-face training to teachers across the state. The centers were cut from last year’s state budget, but this year the Assembly budgeted $20.5 million for them, approximately half of what the centers have been funded for in the past, according to Gail Moon, the state’s acting teacher centers program director.

Though the centers receive support from the state’s teachers union and some local unions, including the United Federation of Teachers, they primarily rely on the state for funding.

The partnership with Microsoft may alleviate some of the financial stress on teacher centers, staff members said, adding that the stress is particularly sharp now that the centers are tasked with helping teachers and networks understand new instructional standards and integrate technology in their classroom.

“The way we’re looking at doing that is using technology by offering more webinars, electronic video conferencing capabilities, more professional development to more people, and then reducing the cost,” said Stan Silverman, co-chair of the centers’ technology committee.

Silverman said he will also use the program to show state legislators that teachers centers need more resources.

The teacher centers have partnered with Microsoft and Intel in the past to support teachers interested in digital learning, according to Silverman. But he said Tech4Teachers would address teachers’ needs better than before, because the training is targeted to the state’s new Common Core math and English curriculum standards.

The partnership isn’t costing the teacher centers, which work with state teachers unions to offer teacher-directed professional development programs, and most of the online training programs offered by Microsoft will be free to users, Silverman said. But teachers and schools will have to pay for the technology and some on-location training with their own budgets.

Microsoft’s donations are likely to make technology training more attainable for teachers, said Sig Behrens, the company’s U.S. education manager.

“There’s a lot of attention being drawn to the limited resources teachers have,” he said. “We’re trying to do our part to help out on the cost.”

Behrens also said the discounted technology program could expand to other states next year after the technology companies see how it is used in New York.

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