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Technology Challenges In K-12 Education

on September 18, 2012

The marriage of technology and education has proved to be a challenging endeavor. This is especially true for large urban school districts that are faced with the task of incorporating technology on two fronts. The business side needs it to manage student data, finances, infrastructure, and food services. The teaching side needs it to keep up with the society’s demands on how their children are educated.

Some of the larger school districts serve over 175,000 students and a complimentary staff of 20,000. The finances to manage these organizations usually come from federal, state, and local governments by way of taxes, bonds, etc. There is an ongoing debate about how the money being poured into public education is being spent. That debate became even louder after the government began collecting and distributing billions of dollars with its E-rate program.

When school districts began to receive that windfall, the public expected that the issue of technology in schools would be immediately addressed. That did not happen. In fact, for the large school districts it presented new challenges for technology directors. The E-rate program is very complex participate in and report on. The funds are directly related to the number of children receiving free or reduced price lunch (another government program).

In a typical large urban school district, you will have schools at both ends of the spectrum. Those in the well to do neighborhoods will have a robust PTA, active participation by neighborhood businesses, and students eager to learn. At the other end of the spectrum, you will have schools with little parental participation, old facilities, a high concentration of poor children, and little business/community participation.

The E-rate funds are targeted for the latter group of schools. It provides for things like internal wiring, Internet services, and network equipment. What it does not provide for are computers or software to connect to those systems. The thought process was that schools could use the funds that they saved on E-rate provided items to purchase computers and software. Sounds good, except, not many districts budget for wiring upgrades, increased bandwidth, or router replacements.

In the early days of E-rate, some districts worked the system by purchasing the same items for the same schools each year. They would then transfer the older equipment to schools in the district that did not qualify for E-rate. That loophole and many others were soon closed. The large school districts are now scrambling to meet technology demands with fewer dollars available.

Some district leaders are concentrating their efforts on the schools where there is the most need. They are getting the new computers, new software, and the new instructional technology. The schools in the well to do neighborhoods have similar efforts started, except they have to rely on parents, PTA’s, and local businesses to make it happen. Those schools are now asking for an equitable distribution of district technology funds.

It is incumbent on district leaders to engage technology professionals who know how to remedy this and other technology issues. Semi-retired educators or an appointed hack is not the way to resolve such problems. Immediate attention is needed. Remember, that for each four-year plan that means that a child starting kindergarten will be halfway though elementary school before something happens and a ninth grader will be gone from the system.
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