Washington, D.C. -- As spring approaches, many school district administrators are preparing next year's budget in the midst of uncertainty. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization (www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/esea/index.html) includes major changes in how funding is allocated to states and districts, and the implementation of the new policies has not yet been determined. With overall expenditures on the rise and a significant commitment to technology in schools, the dip in the economy puts pressure on schools to continue existing programs and meet new requirements.
In 2000-01, U.S. schools spent $336 billion educating children with $7 billion going toward technology spending. This investment signifies a major commitment in schools to technology in learning. Jeanne Hayes, President and CEO of Quality Education Data (QED, www.qeddata.com), believes that funding for technology in schools has matured from buying technology with special funds to making technology an integral part of learning expenses. In 2000-01, 74% of technology came from regular funds rather than extraordinary funds or other sources.
Changes in the National Priorities
According to John Bailey, the newly appointed Director of Technology for the U.S. Department of Education, changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act show a strong commitment to education technology, but reflected differently. Rather than support projects targeting technology purchases, the new act identifies educational goals and allows school districts to determine whether to use program funding for the purchase of technology or other methods.
The changes in federal policy include consolidation of programs, flexibility and transferability, and local control. Depending on how the department of education implements the new rules, the choices states make with regard to distribution of funds, and school district priorities, the result could be either more or less funding spent on technology.
For example, a school may choose to adopt a technology-infused reading program and apply for funds to support reading, professional development and combine them with Title I funds to purchase equipment, software, and teacher training in support of reading. Another school may decide that smaller class sizes and reading specialists will have more impact and combine their funds to support these initiatives instead. They both respond to the new administration's focus on reading -- one using technology and the other applying human resources to the problem.
A Smaller Pie to Slice
Most school districts also face budget shortfalls due to the sluggish economy. The lack of funds could put a damper on state-wide initiatives such as the California Digital Schools and the Maine laptop programs, according to Sara Fitzgerald, Vice President of Communications at Funds for Learning, an educational technology consulting firm (www.fundsforlearning.com). She believes that the effect on local programs will be mixed. School districts may cut technology support and professional development to meet their budgets, which will hurt the integration of purchased technology. Districts considering new technology projects may put them on the back burner to focus on more traditional strategies to raise test scores and improve reading.
Fitzgerald predicts that forward-thinking districts will retain their technology focus because they recognize the value of it. She said: "I spoke to one district superintendent who told me he can't go back to teaching the old-fashioned way. The world has changed and the kids won't put up with it. They will turn off of school and drop out."
Narrow the Focus
" At a time of less optimism, people tend to be more conservative," said Hayes. "Even last spring, technology directors responding to our survey said that they did not plan to increase their spending on technology. They will pursue niche solutions. They will look for the most cost effective options."
She cites the rapid adoption of wireless technology as evidence of this. QED found that 22% of schools now have some type of wireless connectivity to support their classrooms. Wireless LANs reduce the number of hard-wired network drops needed in a classroom and allow flexibility to move assets such as laptop carts into classrooms when needed.
Tools for Planning
District administrators and technology coordinators need real numbers to convince board members to support technical solutions. A few resources have recently come online:
In November 2001, QED launched the National Technology Assessment Tool (http://survey.qeddata.com). In about two minutes, a school can create a technology profile to compare with other schools in the state or nationally. As more schools enter their profiles, the knowledge base grows and comparison data improves.
On February 28, 2002, the Institute for the Advancement of Emerging Technologies in Education (IAETE) unveiled the K-12 TCO Calculator (www.iaete.org/tco/) to use in technology planning and assessment. The calculator provides a comprehensive review of all factors associated with total cost of ownership including facility impact, electrical requirements, support staff, and product life.
The changes in policy and funding suggest a fundamental shift for everyone involved in educational technology. The focus and measure of success has evolved from a simple count of wires and computers to a more complicated measure of impact on student learning and school effectiveness. Perhaps the success of the past in achieving such ambitious connectivity goals indicates a promise for the future to make technology a transparent part of learning and budgets.