Flying Blind On A Rocket Cycle

I was saving this title for another post because Flash Gordon is one of my top ten favorite movies of all time, but I’ve reached that frustration point where I need to write and the title was on my mind, so here it goes.

Why am I frustrated? Well, I’ve been working on a technology report for a district as part of consulting gig, something I do occasionally where as part of a team we go in and evaluate the technology status of a district. I’ve done a few of these over the years with this organization, as well as consulted independently for a few districts, not to mention my brief stint at East Side which might as well have been a consulting gig, and the story is always the same. A lack of technology leadership, vision and funding leads to a technology wasteland in classrooms. It completely boggles my mind how Superintendents and boards of education can allow this to continue and yet, it’s common place. At least in California schools.

I call this the “technology for attendance” level of adoption where technology is seen as a means to take attendance, record grades and check email. This is technology as operational necessity rather than strategic imperative and it’s the mindset that is robbing kids of their futures and robing teachers of the excitement and possibilities of teaching in a technology rich 21st Century classroom. This is the current state in my district, despite my year of attempting to move us forward (not being on cabinet hasn’t helped). It is a continuation of the status quo; classified as Substitution on Dr. Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model of technology adoption. And it’s not good enough anymore.

We need Modification and Redefinition at all levels of technology adoption in schools. And yet most districts aren’t moving in this direction. I think it’s precisely because most districts lack the strategic, visionary technology leader with a seat at the decision making table that technology has not made the impact it should in schools (yet). Well, time to get with the program, or the districts that do have visionary IT leaders sitting at the table, integrating technology into every aspect of a districts DNA, fighting for budget for updated technology and devices for students, are going to make 20th century classrooms look like the obsolete models of instruction they are fast becoming. And increasingly, boards of education are going to have to explain to parents why their children are still being taught like it’s 1999.

It’s 2013 for crying out loud. Technology isn’t optional anymore. In 2015 WE TEST KIDS ON COMPUTERS! (hint, that means districts need computers that aren’t as old as their 2nd graders). A few years back I went looking for information on average school spending on technology and found a report from the 90’s. It said tech neutral districts were spending about 3.5% of their budget on tech and tech heavy districts spent closer to 5%. Most districts were spending around 1% at the time and their level of technology reflected the lack of spending. It seems to me like many are spending even less than that now. And that was before 1:1, Common Core and SBAC online assessments. These low historical spending levels have left many districts ill prepared to usher themselves into the 21st Century. But no one wants to come out and say, “Your tech budgets have been historically underfunded, plan on increasing them year over year for the next three years to catch up!”

The common response I hear to this is “we have no money.” Well, I’m not talking about new money for technology. Their is no pot of gold at the end of the California budget rainbow. I’m talking about taking a hard look at current spending practices and adjusting priorities accordingly. Districts are doing it. Sylvan Union recently decided to eliminate instructional aids and redirect those funds into 1:1 computing because they determined that instructional aides were not improving educational outcomes for students. Transforming for the 21st Century is not going to be easy. If free money was just floating around, everyone would be doing 1:1. The challenge is doing it with the resources we already have.

Districts can’t hide from this technology thing anymore. It’s something district leaders can’t afford not to understand. Because I’m not talking about increasing spending on the same old paradigm. This is not about doubling up on servers or switches or network admins (although if you’re big enough, you really should have two, you know). It’s about budgeting for a sustainable infrastructure so you can build a technology infused instructional environment on top of it.  It’s about funding an edtech staff to help teachers, administrators, students and parents understand the information revolution and align the instructional paradigms for the new connected Common Core reality. It’s about building out the most robust wireless network you can afford to support the mobile device revolution. It’s about making sure teachers have current hardware, laptops and tablets and projectors and unblocked internet access not so that they can take attendance, input grades and read District Office email announcements but so they can participate in the global education community, build PLCs and PLNs, become content creators and curators and bring the world into their classrooms to share and explore and learn with their students. It’s 2013 people!!! We are a third of the way into the second decade of the 21st century. Wake the BLEEP up already!

As a technology leader in a district, I wouldn’t want to be stuck in the 20th century where technology is the third wheel, isolated and separate from the decision making process seen merely as a tool to be used rather than a key to unlocking every teacher’s and student’s potential with no real budget and no hope of rising to the challenge that is fast approaching. So please Boards of Education and Superintendents, stop flying blind. Put a technology leader on your decision making team, start funding technology and edtech as the strategic imperative it is and lead your district’s into the 21st Century. Our student’s futures depend on it.