SPENDING POLICIES NEED TO CHANGE

It is expected and very politically correct to implement technology in schools, especially those that are affluent or experiencing strong growth rates, enabling strong capital budgets. Implementing technology is part of current school culture, reflecting the expectations of parents, corporate America, learning research and school accreditation requirements. Most parents intrinsically understand that in today’s economy, technology literacy has a direct impact on the type of job and socio- economic well being their child will experience. A quick review of any report from the CEO Forum will reveal that most of corporate America requires employees to possess technology literacy as a basic skill. Learning research has emphatically shown that the industrial school model, everyone learning the same thing at the same pace, is not reality. A teacher cannot track the individual education program for 25 students at the primary grade level, or their 100 English students in their four-section of block scheduling at the high school on paper. However, they can with the proper software packages operating on the computer in their classroom. A high school cannot meet the basic school accreditation requirements without a minimum ratio of number of students to number of content offerings using computer labs.

It could also be suggested that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has major implications for technology. A close look at the reporting requirements reveals that school districts will expend a tremendous amount of manual labor gathering and correlating data, or they will implement“data warehousing” packages that enable them to use“data mining” tools to generate the required reports. (i.e. Funds totaling “x” dollars for teacher in-service days yielded “y” impact on student grades.)

Along with all of the other areas of interest in the K-12 industry exerting pressure on school leaders, it is fair to state there is a lot of pressure from numerous sources to implement technology into our schools. In response, K-12 schools districts had a few leading districts implementing technology in the early 90s, while most districts did not really start working on the problem until the mid 1990s. In comparison, a strong argument can be made that it has taken 20 years for the technology implementation investment of corporate America to yield its expected productivity gains (which we are seeing today). That comparison implies that we are not even halfway through a reasonable period of time where we can see the effect of large-scale technology implementation in the K-12 industry.

There is a minor but growing trend that can be expected to have a strong impact on this issue. A few brave school leaders are stepping forward in their districts and setting a new policy. They will not allow either capital or operating budgets related to technology move forward until someone can tell them what they will get in return for expending those funds. Corporate America calls this “return on investment” and represents basic accountability, which ties investment of dollars to a specific outcome. Call it whatever you want, efficiency, productivity, “bang for your buck”; the current and predicted trends regarding K-12 funding, both for operating budgets and capital budgets, means that the K-12 organization of the future, recognized as being successful, has intelligently distributed and used the funds that they do have available. That means policy changes regarding technology.

Technology purchases should not occur unless someone can provide supporting data and proof that the expenditure of dollars will result in a specific outcome. Obviously, that outcome should be tied to specific curricular/instructional goals or administrative efficiencies. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as changing one policy. A successful implementation requires coordination beyond the “things” (hardware and software) of technology. Coordinated policy changes related to your “places” and “people” are necessary to ensure success. There are examples of award-winning facilities and technology implementations that, after five years, have reverted to their original non-technological culture. What a tremendous waste of hard-earned revenue. Long-term, sustainable change is achieved through changing the culture of an organization. Changing policies and expectations of how an organization will operate is part of changing the culture of the organization.

About the Author

Glenn Meeks is president of Meeks Educational Technology located in Cary, N.C. He can be reached at gmeeks@meeksgeeks.com.

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