Is Technology Considered a Critical Element in your School District?

by Jean Tower

Is anyone else experiencing a direct conflict between budgeting and technology expectations? The Boston Globe has a front page story today, Schools bracing for deep cutbacks. It talks about cutting “into the marrow of the classroom,” cuts in recent years having been supplies, texts and infrastructure, and this round of reductions being more personnel-based. Against that economic picture, overlay the incredibly high expectations that school districts have of technology. With very few people (staff) we:

  • Maintain computers, printers, and networks
  • Upgrade computers, printers, and networks
  • Conduct professional development
  • Coach and support teachers
  • Oversee a huge variety of data entry and data projects
  • Teach people how to use the data warehouse (a Massachusetts data initiative)
  • Create and manage budgets
  • Model and assure adherence to purchasing regulations, software licensing, & copyright laws
  • Write grants
  • Lead technology planning
  • Communicate with all stakeholders
  • Ensure CIPA compliance
  • Oversee (and sometimes design and update) the school web site
  • Direct and coordinate use of electronic communications
  • Make sure we are archiving those communications
  • Constantly update our skills to provide leadership about using cutting edge technology
  • Move our districts and teachers toward green computing and virtualization and blogs and wikis and …

…. the list can go on and on.

And yet, when the budget is being created, discussed, cut, presented, and finalized, is there a widely held recognition about the key role technology plays in your district? And if your budget does get cut, what goes?

I worry that the first things that get cut are professional development and instructional support. These are critical elements in school technology programs. Without them, technology integration suffers. The next thing is usually replacement hardware. Massachusetts has technology plan guidelines that suggest schools keep computers for five years only. I know many schools that have 8 and 9 year old computers, and budget cuts usually impact this replacement cycle in a negative way.

I think we all need to have a script – we need to figure out what makes technology critical to our core mission (in our district or in our school) and we need to be able to explain it – we need to be ready with that script to explain and defend the role of technology in education and the budget requests that need to support that role. Here are some ideas that I like to keep in mind when I am developing my budget talking points.

How are Computers Like Police Cars?
Barry Haskell, recently retired superintendent, Plymouth Public Schools, conducted a workshop of this title at a conference I attended. He had successfully campaigned for a sizeable capital allocation for Plymouth Public Schools. He shared some of the strategies he used. One was to explain to all who would listen that computers were as critical to schools as police cars were to the Public Safety Department. Schools can no longer function without computers; they are not optional; they are fundamental to our business; they are “like police cars.” This is so true. Our colleagues and students expect technology to work – everywhere, all the time. It is like plugging in a lamp – I don’t have to wonder whether the light bulb will turn on – it just does. It would help our cause if we can explain to stakeholders that the expectation is that computers and networks are as invisible and as dependable as a utility like electricity.

At the 2009 CoSN Annual Conference I heard Bill Rust of Gartner explain technesia.
He said that technesia is when stakeholders fail to remember the value of technology in their environment. The same people who vote to reduce technology support staff will continue to expect the same level of support, just as the stakeholders who say this is the year to forego new technology (capital) spending will complain that the technology is slow. It’s much better to be able to articulate these needs at the budget table before cuts are made so that all stakeholders realize the future implications of present decisions.

Technology Aligned with Strategic Plan
There should be direct alignment and coherence between your strategic plan, student achievement goals, and technology. If there is not, technology will be relegated to peripheral, silo status, a stand-alone and separate entity within a larger system. With strong alignment, technology budget requests can be shown to be consistent with important, core plans and goals.

Technology in the Curriculum
Does your district have a clear vision of the 21st century skills that students should be mastering? Is there an understanding of what constitutes a 21st Century Classroom (or a Digital-Age Classroom)? Are there expectations and standards for teachers and students, and are they grounded in core learning experiences and goals? I know that in my current district this is an area for improvement. We have pockets of excellence and some real innovators who teach in technology-infused ways. Their students benefit from their skills, enthusiasm, knowledge, and from the fact that they embrace the tools at their disposal. We are not yet at the point where this is systemic or where we have a coherent vision school to school, level to level. To the extent that there is one, it can be used to explain and protect technology expenditures and budget items.

Other ideas?
Do you have tried and true ways that have been successful for you in positioning technology as a critical element in your school district? Something safeguarded as vital in your budget and an integral component in your strategic plan? I’d love to hear your ideas.

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