Education Technology at an
Important Crossroads in California
by Barrett Snider, Partner, Capitol Advisors Group
The policy debate around education technology in Sacramento is one of the more frustrating topics. While it is filled with good intentions and a genuine desire by all parties to provide every child with a 21st Century education, it is also plagued with issues of general unawareness, scope, and cost. In order to move education technology into the appropriate sphere of consciousness for California policymakers, it will take a coming-together of the education community to push for a unified vision that is appropriately funded.
For a long time, technology lived in the general “administration” of schools. Over the past few decades it has evolved from payroll and data processing to copy machines and computer labs to fully networked agencies with email and data reporting to classrooms where technology delivers interactive content to students. But most recently, California’s school have taken an evolutionary leap in technology with the requirement that all students take state standardized tests that are online and adaptive (questions change based upon the student’s previous answers). The scope of this is huge both in terms of the infrastructure needed to support such a policy (broadband networks, sufficient number of capable computers, well-trained staff, etc.), but also in terms of definitively moving the role of technology in schools from mere administration to being a necessarily integrated component of every students’ classroom experience. Additionally, the communities that elect local school boards are supporting, if not demanding, their children get an education that includes the use of technology.
As schools have attempted to meet this demand and implement the online assessments, it has occurred in the context of “local control,” which has its benefits and its drawbacks. For schools that planned well, local control has been great - no red tape meant schools could move efficiently and quickly. However, for some school districts, particularly very large and very small ones, the task of rapidly integrating and updating technology has been understandably challenging and that has led to some failures. The press coverage of the LAUSD iPad debacle is the one folks in the Capitol ask about when debating future state investments in education technology. Many policymakers and staff are reticent to support additional funding for education technology without taking additional steps to ensure that kind of thing doesn't happen again. That is an immediate challenge the entire education community needs to come together to resolve in order to move forward. Some have suggested possible solutions include a regional or state support structure and better tech planning.
There are a number of associations and agencies in California that have influence over the policy discussions regarding education technology, including the California Educational Technology Professionals Association (CETPA), K-12 High Speed Network (K-12 HSN), Computer Using Educators (CUE), Technology and Telecommunications Steering Committee (TTSC) of the County Superintendent’s Association (CCSESA), and the Technology Leadership Group within the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), among others. These organizations should take the lead and come together in 2015 to establish a unified front to provide solutions to a broad array of policy questions facing the future of education technology in California. In addition to the issues raised by the LAUSD iPad fallout, some other issues include:
- Establishing an awareness of cost - There is nothing cheap about technology. To ignore that in policy conversations seems unwise. It would benefit schools to have better estimates of the costs of hardware, software, and people (often highly trained employees competing in a high-wage environment) whenever something related to technology is being debated in Sacramento. The state has thrown some money at the problem (think: $1 billion of one-time funds for Common Core implementation that could be used for technology, professional development, and instructional materials). But we’ve never had a good accounting of the statewide costs of technology requirements related to the common core tests. There is a mandate reimbursement test claim going through the process that could shake things up, but that will take some time. Additionally, the state has not provided funds to schools explicitly for technology costs since the Digital High School project in the late 1990s.
- Data sharing and privacy - It is one of the more nebulous issues because data on the Internet is difficult and expensive to protect - even for companies like Target… There is also a profound lack of clarity among school administrators regarding the appropriate instances when individually identifiable student data can be sent outside the school agency. This is particularly problematic for many high-needs students that require coordination with other social service agencies (foster care, mental health, etc.). This needs some additional clarity.
- Equity - We’ve watched some schools deploy technology rich environments for students, while other schools have virtually no technology integrated into the classroom, other than testing. This can draw a particularly stark contrast when you think about the typing advantage some students get from using a keyboard every day vs. those students that rarely do anything other than text, among other things. Many education technology professionals and superintendents have asked about the potential for equity lawsuit on this issue, not unlike the Williams Case. It might make sense to give the Governor and Legislature some guidance on the inequities that exist and what role the state might play in addressing them.