Increase Technology Funding, Implementation – Find Money for Education Technology in General Budget

Policymakers throughout all educational levels are wrestling with the cold, hard truth that the original funding of new equipment and software is the tip of the funding iceberg. In the ’80s we called this the “hidden costs.” In the ’90s we were so excited about all the new gadgets that we forgot to worry about anything else. Now, in the new century, we are wondering how we can afford to keep the tools our administrators, teachers, parents and students are finally putting to good use.

As the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) states in their Total Cost of Ownership white paper, “While many government and private programs provide the means of obtaining the much-needed technology for schools, there are few provisions for the necessary ongoing support of these technologies. School districts, having installed much of the technologies needed for classroom, administrative and community communications functions, are fast becoming aware of the support problems and need to budget for the ongoing support costs.” These monies are often the last priority of any school entity.

With the revolving threat of federal funds elimination for E-Rate and EETT (Enhancing Education Through Technology) funds, districts must find their own reliable and ongoing funding sources, and state and federal leadership would do well to help calculate and take into consideration total cost of ownership. Seeing the big picture is a necessity.

General Budget Technology Funding

To compound the funding dilemma, many education leaders have yet to realize that technology is no longer a separate entity. Technology use is an everyday occurrence in every school in every district, at one level or another. Unfortunately, many education policy leaders have not revised their general budgets to support the proven ways technology improves the work and goals of the local education agencies (LEAs). Leaders who consider technology a “black hole” (as one administrator once told me) are burying their heads in the sand and should be made aware or trained.

Those who set the general fund budget should be informed of the successes from districts that have recreated education budgeting and work practices. These districts take advantage of technology to increase business efficiency and advance student learning, thus saving money and truly educating students while helping meet No Child Left Behind mandates:

  1. One of the strongest organizations of high performing school districts west of the Mississippi River is the Western States Benchmarking Consortium. These districts constantly score above the norm on tests, have high graduation rates, and have lower dropout rates when compared with similar and dissimilar demographics. All of these school districts were early adopters of technology and have used it to support teachers, students and their business teams.
  2. Assistant Superintendent John Q. Porter of Montgomery County Public Schools, an outstanding school district on the East Coast, stated in the June issue of District Administration magazine, “Our enemy is time, and technology is the only way [to combat that]. Still, there are people who don’t understand the importance of technology because they fear it. One of the first things you realize in technology is that technology is change; those who fail in developing systems don’t understand the dynamic of change.”
  3. Two years ago, Poway Unified School District was going to hire 32 new teachers. The technology department used their data warehousing tool to show district leaders they needed only 25 teachers. The leadership followed their advice instead of following old trends, and their estimation proved correct. The district saved approximately $350,000 in salaries — more than the cost of the data warehouse installation.
  4. Student assessments have changed. Trish Williams and Michael Kirst, in their article “School Practices that Matter” (Leadership Magazine, March/April 2006), state high performing districts must have assessments that align with state standards and have the ability to quickly inform teachers of results. Online assessments give policymakers a choice of how to properly assess students to support learning, with 24 hours or quicker result reporting. This should be a common practice to support the students and meet NCLB mandates.

RELATED STORY: Find More Money for Budget and Technology []

All budgets, despite project or department, must be completely reviewed to see how technology can support and make the end product more successful. Additionally, policy leaders must continue to research what new innovations will be appearing in the near future and analyze how these new tools will impact education programs in their local education agencies. All must be in a continual learning mode and work together to envision how we can help put students on a path to continual intellectual growth. Following are some steps to start down the path toward properly utilizing general funds for the support of technology.

Funding Where There was None

Step 1: Evaluate and Prioritize

Data-driven decision-making is a fundamental part of this first step. Generally, there are three areas from which data should be gathered: instructional and business demands, the infrastructure to support those demands, and the equipment and software needed to meet those demands.

  • Instructional and business demands: these demands are driven by district objectives, community expectations, state and federal mandates, funding constraints and labor union guidelines. Expectations are increasingly high for districts to produce students who perform well on standardized tests and exhibit good citizenship. The business side of education exists to support the learning activities that will meet these expectations.
  • The infrastructure to support those demands: LEAs’ infrastructure consists of multiple components. Every two to three years, structural components should be reviewed. Telephones, data, alarm, networks and general physical condition of buildings must be assessed to understand what repairs and upgrades are needed. Funding is available in many states under deferred maintenance, or in operational and maintenance restricted funds. If a comprehensive plan is developed and followed, districts can ensure this major building block for support of education will be set in place.
  • Equipment and software to meet those demands: with the first two areas in place, an intelligent decision can be made regarding the purchase of software, computers and other related equipment that will work with the existing infrastructure and meet the district’s instructional and business demands.

Attaining these goals may require more than one year. It is also highly probable that goals will change over time. It is wise, therefore, to create a multi-year plan that is agile and modifiable.

Part of supporting technology is providing a maintenance, replacement or obsolescence fund, typically fed from districts’ general funds. Too often a majority of technology dollars are spent simply maintaining the status quo. The challenge is to meet the continual need for growth in the areas of technology for online assessments, home-to-school communication, 24/7 access to learning resources and virtual or distance learning.

Step 2: Partnerships

LEAs can benefit from partnerships with local and national businesses in two major ways. First, businesses use general funds to support technology, and business leaders can share funding and maintenance best practices with educational policymakers. Second, business partners can donate equipment or money to support technology innovations in education.

True partnerships support all parties involved. Such partnerships can be large or small, because any amount of funding will help. Large corporations often have several different funding sources. IBM, for instance, has the Academic Initiative and an alliance with the Computer Science Teachers Association to provide free software and curriculum planning. Intel offers multiple grant programs, as does Microsoft. Smaller companies, even the mom and pop donut shop, can and will support their neighborhood school.

Step 3: Form Foundations

If a community understands its local districts’ funding constraints, they are often willing to extend financial assistance by creating a foundation. While foundations are helpful overall, they should be avoided for individual school sites, as they generally increase inequities that already exist. Schools in more affluent neighborhoods may have foundations that raise $100,000 or more annually, while schools in less affluent areas may only raise $5,000 or have no foundation, and will obviously be unable to support their student learning projects.

Step 4: New Uses for Old Technologies

Thin client (a network computer without a hard disk drive, which is designed to be especially small so that the bulk of the data processing occurs on the server) is one way to use old equipment to run new software, where old computers can become “dumb terminals” and run new applications from the server. This solution requires a sound network foundation and server structure, but can reduce replacement costs and decrease technology support staff needs.

Step 5: Give Grants a Chance

Where are the grants? Too many education decision-makers and leaders, especially at the high school level, do not realize that state and federal grants are much easier to obtain if their free and reduced lunch count is 40 percent or more. It is important for educators to have accurate data and a high percentage in this area for funding sources such as E-Rate, EETT, or other related sources. In addition, ferreting out grant money can augment general funds to support student learning with technology.

The Road to Affording Ed Tech

General budget funding must be realigned to match the needs of local education agencies. This will help both the learning and business aspects of a school. These funds may initially need supplemental support, but educators must be aware of the benefits of technology. We must intelligently commit funding for the educational growth of all our children.

Leasing Equipment

Last year, the Poway Unified School District had to replace approximately 3,000 Windows 95 computers. These computers would not run the Web browser needed for their data reporting tool or the majority of teacher Web pages. The memory and speed of the computers were insufficient to run most of the enterprise-wide educational software available over their wide area network (WAN) and local area networks (LANs).

The district had less than $1 million per year available for this project. Leasing was discussed. The amount the district had for support was ongoing, so the question was, could a lease agreement that guaranteed a vendor an ongoing fixed dollar amount for several years also guarantee the district a continuing flow of up-to-date technology equipment?

The district obtained a four-year lease with three vendors, with an agreement at the end of four years to rotate the machines out with a new lease agreement. Additional cost savings included the maintenance agreement — vendor responsibility for all repairs during the lease period.

Thin Client

Districts throughout New York and New Jersey have discovered how to use thin client technology to make old computers new again. During the late 1990s, thin client was dismissed as too slow and too expensive to be useful in most school districts. This perception has changed in business, as in education, with greater network speed via WAN and LAN technologies, and tremendous server cost reductions.

In a thin client environment, workstations do not store programs but rather receive everything from a system of servers (one server for about 20 workstations). When servers were $20,000 each, this was cost prohibitive. Today, servers that can support thin client cost about $3,500, allowing quick communication with workstations and a cost-saving solution.

Total Cost of Ownership

How can policy leaders find the true cost of supporting equipment? The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and the Gartner Group have an online tool that will assist in the estimation of this cost for various levels of technology.

Published in the Fall 2006 issue of Converge []

Many of The Best K-12 Teachers Won’t Go to Where The Students Really Need Them Most

It takes a lot to be a good teacher, you really must care about what you’re doing, and care about the students. That’s easier said than done considering how rude some of the kids are when they come to class, they don’t seem to have any discipline at home, and when they get to school there is no difference, at least there’s no difference in their minds. This makes it tough on a teacher, and it slowly errodes their motivation over the years.

We need those teachers, we need them to be the best they can be, we also need them in some of the toughest classrooms, teaching in perhaps places they don’t want to teach. In the United States, I would imagine that most of the teachers that work in the suburban classes, those school districts which command a lot of competition and therefore get some of the best teachers – well, what I’m trying to say is, I’m pretty sure that most of them wouldn’t want to go work in the inner-city. But isn’t that where we really need them? Sure it is.

I also imagine that teachers are pretty burned out in the inner-city, the tough neighborhood, the kids are tough, and not many of them put a lot of value in education, perhaps because even their own families don’t. Many of these kids, if they do graduate high school, may be the first person in her family to graduate high school; perhaps they are the first person in her family to speak English? The dropout rate in some of these schools, especially with the ESL kids can be as high as 60%. If we can’t do better than that, we aren’t going to succeed as a nation. After all, our nation in 20 years will only be as good as our schools are now.

Professor Sugata Mitra gave a lecture at the ALT-C 2010 Symposium for teaching “The Hole in the Wall: Self Organizing Systems in Education,” had put some computers in the form of a Kiosk in urban slums of India near the schools. It turns out that kids were teaching themselves English, and forming groups and helping each other learn. After 9-months they taught themselves English, computer literacy, and through this computer access improved drastically in science and mathematics.

Maybe if we can’t get the very best teachers for the inner-city, maybe we can at least get them the right technology tools, and those kids who want to learn, will, they will be curious, they will enjoy learning, and perhaps they will do just as well without a teacher. Interestingly enough, the individual I mentioned above has actually proven that, at least in India, Indonesia, Africa, and other places in the world. Maybe this radical departure from what we think schools should be, and our traditional education system is actually ready for a major upgrade.

If what we are doing isn’t working, then we are practicing the definition of insanity by doing more of it and expecting the same results. Why not change and try something new, it certainly is not get hurt any those kids in the inner-city, and just think if we can get that 60% dropout rate down to 10%. What a difference it would make in their neighborhoods in the future, and we’d all benefit from that wouldn’t we? Please consider all this and think on it.

A Day in the Life of a Teacher Using Technology

Let’s take a quick look at the technology adapted teacher operating in the future (the near future!)

It’s Monday morning, another day and another fun week in the tech supported classroom.

Mrs. Apple (Psst! That’s you!) walks into her classroom, quickly turns on her laptop and reviews the daily news program and podcasts that the students will soon be watching. She then proceeds to check out the schools web community where there are some announcements and where her students have been busy overnight finishing their online activities.

She answers a few of their questions about an upcoming project and addresses a few concerns from a parent about their son’s math marks. T he parent is traveling on business in the southern US but has been keeping an eye on her son’s progress in the schools password protected virtual community.

A journal, a science quiz and a French crossword were assigned for homework. Mrs. Apple reviews marks and comments on the activities quickly and efficiently without shuffling a page. She smiles as she notices that the students’ Space Glossary has grown to over 100 words. The morning news program will feature the return of the Space Shuttle so this may extract some additional space words. She reviews the latest entries and approves them to be posted on the website.

As the school day begins a student that loves working with technology enters early to set up the classroom projector, digital whiteboard and electronic tablet. He tests the equipment and the student response systems to make sure they will be ready for the days work. Meanwhile, the teacher loads several digital lessons, Power Points and websites that she will be using throughout the school day.

The students enter and participate in the schools opening exercises which are played over the schools multimedia system. The national anthem’s words run across the bottom of the screen as pictures of their country’s landscape and images for its history appear on the classroom monitor. Following the anthem a recorded inspirational message is given on the screen by a popular figure in order to give the students a positive start to the day and lessons that they will remember throughout their lives.

Class begins with a ten minute synopsis of world and national events delivered in a format that is appropriate for students. After a short discussion and activities related to the current events the students prepare to find out more about their world from people their own age. The class links up via video link with their digital pen pals on the other side of the world and a student moderated discussion begins that allows both classes to ask questions and gain a human perspective about their pen pals country which help them on their upcoming projects.

Once the online conference is complete, each student writes a formal letter to their pen pal and sends it via their school email. A few students attach their animated short movie which they created in computer class, while others send their video skits which they preformed in drama class and uploaded to their personal hard drives.

As it nears noon hours the excitement begins to mount as students prepare their questions for today’s special virtual guest; a real astronaut. Several other classes across the continent link into a video conference with the astronaut to hear about the training he underwent and the Science he performed while in space. Once they are inspired and informed by their newest hero they continue to work on their space websites which they have been developing over the past few weeks.

A few keen student web designers decide to put their skills to the test and enter a youth web design contest that is sponsored by a multinational technology company. The students get so engrossed in the project that they spend their lunch hour and weekends attempting to win the big prize.

After lunch, the teacher has the students answer questions using their electronic student response systems in order to gain instant information about the student understanding or lack thereof of the previous day’s lesson. After a quick scan of the quiz results the instructor uploads a few pages from the previous day’s lesson in order to give the students the necessary clarification they need.

Now that the teacher is confident that the class has a good grasp of yesterday’s lesson, he introduces the new topic using video, interactive software, the electronic whiteboard activities and constantly monitors their understanding using the student response systems. Once the lesson is complete students complete their assignments and a couple of students review the lesson again using a visual software program.

At the end of the day the class decides to add to Wikipedia. They have been updating information about the history of their town. One student has brought in an old history book belonging to her grandmother which will help the class find new information for their entry.

This is how the day and year continues in this technology supported classroom. Interactive lessons, professional online presentations, conferences, hands on activities and digital assessments are all used in an interesting, efficient and effective format. The only question left is…are you heading towards this type of classroom?