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 [http://www.convergemag.com/summary.php?catid=418]

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 [http://www.convergemag.com/story.php?catid=418&storyid=106722]

Educational Technology for Students With Special Needs

As many of you know, my journey down the organizing road started with my son. My constant search to find ways to untangle his school world led me to uncover many tools available on the technology systems he uses every day. Who knew that his iPad and iTouch would become his constant companions!

iPad Apps

More and more schools are allowing students to use their iPads and iPod Touches in the classrooms, and therefore these types of educational applications are growing by leaps and bounds. For students with special needs specifically, check out iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch Apps for Special Education, a list compiled by assistive technology specialists and broken down by category such as math, writing, art, etc. These apps are truly life changing for the special needs student.

Also be sure to check out “The iPad: a Near-Miracle for My Son with Autism”. Written from a mother’s perspective about her autistic son’s use of assistive technology and educational apps. She offers great suggestions and even videos of her son using various apps.

There are also many apps available to middle and high school students on their iPads that help make learning interactive and engaging. The Elements(exploring the Periodic Table), and Alien Equation(games that teach math skills), are just some of the apps that students might enjoy.

There are so many new educational apps appearing every day that it would be prudent to check out reviews first, particularly ones that teachers have put their stamp of approval on. I Education Apps Review has a collection that should help you get started.

Cell Phone Apps For Students with ADHD

I spend a lot of my time working with high school students to assist them with paper and time management skills. The learning has really been a two-way process as my students are always sharing with me their favorite cell phone features that benefit their learning, time management, and study skills. Other than the basics, such as calendars and alarms, here are some of their favorites:

Cameras

Do I need to say more? If they are allowed to carry their phone to class, then using the camera feature to snap photos of the blackboard or SMART Board after class will ensure that they don’t miss important class notes or assignments. In addition, photos can also serve as a useful visual reminder of what a student needs to get done. For instance, a photo of the student’s soccer gear laid out will act as a reminder of what needs to be packed up before heading off to practice.

Text Messaging

Yes, you heard me correctly. Students can use Google SMS to get definitions, facts, and conversations sent directly to their phones. Online to-do lists such as Remember the Milk (Love!) can send alerts or an instant message reminding students of an upcoming project, deadline, test or appointment. Students can even receive flashcards and study materials directly to their phone allowing them to study wherever they are.

Although many of theses technologies are used to assist students with special needs, they are truly useful for any student looking for tech savvy techniques to streamline their educational world.

Future Possibilities – Education Technology

Laptop and PDA’s

Individuals in the business world have been utilizing the power of the laptop and handheld for years now. The educational community has just started to utilize these tools in their schools. Many teachers have begun to use laptops and handhelds to create lesson and assess student achievement. Students with exceptionalities are also utilizing laptops and handhelds to assist them in their studies.

The future could have every student and staff carrying a laptop or handheld throughout the day. This phenomenon is already occurring in most post secondary institutions and as the cost of these technologies go down the more likely it is that every student will soon be booting up at the beginning of each instructional day.

Online textbooks

The financial burden the cost of textbooks put on the education system is staggering. New textbooks are purchase every couple of year only to be replaced a few year later with the new cutting edge book that is not much different from the previous. Many companies are beginning to create CD-ROM and online versions of their books.

In the future we will probably find school boards paying a yearly subscription to the textbooks of their choice, which will allow their student to have unlimited access to the books via the internet or downloaded directly to their on their laptops at a fraction of the cost of providing a physical text for every student. Publisher need not fear this will not be the end of the book as we know it since we all still enjoy curling up with a good novel and love flipping through our favourite picture book.

Using the Experts

It is already possible to watch a live feed of Elephant Seals from California and have students ask questions to an onsite marine biologist. However, this could occur more effortlessly and regularly in the future.

Teachers could have access to thousands of experts around the globe and be able to utilize their expertise and knowledge when teaching specific topics. Students would be able to ask questions via video conferencing and perhaps even witness live experiments and studies happening around the world.

Virtual Reality Experiments, Activities and Field Trips

Virtual worlds such as Second Life are beginning to make it possible to create your own digital self (avatar) to travel and experience the world of cyberspace. Currently people are creating stores, team, games, homes and companies in these virtual worlds. Even corporations and educational institutions are experimenting within cyberspace.

In the future a teacher could take their class on a tour of the Amazon rain forest or the Great Barrier Reef within cyberspace and allow each individual student to explore using their own avatar. This may seem a little far out, but believe it or not it is already happening.

Instant assessment and feedback

With the use of laptops and handhelds teachers are already beginning to be able to record their instant assessments of students instantly. Not only are the teachers able to document student’s achievements quickly but with the help of virtual educational communities they will be able to give instant feedback to the student, parents, other teachers and administration.

Worldwide collaboration

World wide collaboration has already begun as students communicate with others around the world via email, video conferencing and instant messaging. Many collaborative projects are also occurring in the shape of online collaborative websites know as wikis. These sites allow anyone that has permission to add and edit the sites information. The most popular wiki, Wikipedia, is use by many internet surfers today.

The future possibilities of worldwide collaboration are mind boggling. Students studying Africa could be teleconferencing with a classroom of children in Botswana. A student writing an essay on the holocaust could have an instant message conversation with a holocaust survivor. An Art lesson on Picasso could begin with a question and answer period with his granddaughter. This is not very far fetched as many universities have been using these types of technologies to enhance their lectures and programs.

Streamlined Administration

Departments of education and school board are beginning to realize the power of streamlining educational data. Marks, reading levels, medical history, achievements, learning disabilities, attendance and many other important data about students is beginning to be compiled into streamlined databases that will help educators understand their students better and customize their lessons to improve achievement.

The Future is Now

Even though many of these technologies are available today, and are beginning to be used is some classrooms around the world, it gives us an idea of where we are heading. What educators and administrator need to remember is that we need to make sure that we keep the art and the human aspect in education and not let technology and ourselves turn it into an exact science that suffocates creativity and unique teaching styles. The possibilities endless we only need the creativity and willingness to embrace these new tools.