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Meta-Analysis: Challenges and Opportunities

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Tech funding surveys reveal some familiar concerns, and in response to recent budget-cutting trends, an urgent call for leadership to forge partnerships.

NUMEROUS RESEARCH PROJECTS and education surveys confirm what educators know from experience: Keeping up with technology to meet the needs of curriculum and administrative information systems continues to be one of the most difficult challenges facing our schools. So it’s no wonder that two opposing forces—meeting the requirements of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and markedly reduced technology funding—dominate today’s ed-tech landscape.

But even a cursory review of a few national and international education technology surveys shows how district decision- makers can begin to handle problems of technology implementation and procure technology funds to confront pressing demands at various levels. Analyzing and comparing previous with more recent surveys, one might ask: What are some key current tech trends? How do these trends influence education technology programs and initiatives? How have funding issues influenced school technology decisions?

Well, the results are in. Survey says: Your leadership is critical. And while that’s not incredibly new news, and you’re not likely to be surprised by what you read here, the repetition of familiar concerns may firm up your own thinking and inspire you to take further action.

Creating Collaborations and Partnerships

The 2005 National Trends Report by the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA; www.setda.org) focused on the now-embattled Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program. The study addressed, among other issues, technology funding. One strategy promoted in many federal programs, including the most recent National Education Technology Plan (www.nationaledtechplan.org), is the development of partnerships to produce increased learning outcomes. These partnerships can include state agencies, other school districts, colleges and universities, as well as business and industry. In addition, NCLB’s flexibility in relation to certain title programs enables grant recipients to transfer funds, thereby providing a critical mass of funding that could be used to purchase comprehensive technology-based solutions. The SEDTA report revealed that roughly three-quarters of all states have encouraged partnership grants (see Figure 1, above). In this way your district can increase technology funding, in addition to leveraging other resources to meet district goals.

At the state level, survey respondents reported increased levels of collaboration among curriculum, instruction, and technology units within their agencies. This finding is corroborated by a 2004 study, “Digital Leadership Divide,” produced by Grunwald Associates (www.grunwald.com).

Enhancing Administrative Leadership

Predictably, administrative leadership is a prominent factor in districts where technology has been successful in meeting student and staff needs. Leaders who actively recruit community support, explore alternative funding methods, and build partnerships with corporations increase their district’s ability to purchase technology and implement technology- based initiatives. If government funding doesn’t meet your district’s technology goals, partner with others to share your dreams—and reduce your costs.

Analyze and calculate the total cost of technology in your schools by using the Total Cost of Ownership tool, available from the Consortium for School Networking (www.cosn.org). The CoSN project, “Taking TCO to the Classroom,” provides school leaders with the means to estimate the TCO involved when they build a network of computers and wire their classrooms to the Internet. And don’t neglect the specialists in your library media department. In June 2005, School Library Journal (www.schoollibraryjournal.com) conducted a survey of 1,571 library media specialists in all 50 states (see Figure 2, above). To no surprise, the results verify that these dedicated professionals are instrumental in technology training and in maintaining school hardware.

Employing Federal Funds

Effectively Few would disagree that technology is essential to meeting NCLB dictates, but while technology budgets have increased, any reductions in government funding, such as EETT’s proposed elimination, can hinder the ability of district leaders to close the “achievement gap.”

The National School Board Association (www.nsba.org) 2005 Technology Survey confirmed the education community’s sentiments in this area. Of the roughly 1,500 survey responses, 41 percent said the federal E-Rate program was “very important” in supporting the ability to set and meet district technology goals. Three other findings revealed deep concerns about technology funding:

  • Roughly 54 percent of respondents believed that the E-Rate program’s application process needs revision.
  • A little more than 26 percent said that EETT was a “very important” funding source.
  • Fifty-two percent thought that classroom instruction programs and activities were supported through EETT funding.

Federal and legislative committees currently are reviewing vital technology programs. When EETT funds were re-allocated in 2001 from the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund program, the result was approximately $166 million less money for EETT than the year before. President Bush’s 2006 budget proposals are creating enormous challenges in the effort to move toward federal, state, and local education technology goals.

Working in a Global Context

That said, consider a broader perspective on your technology investments. In a world economy grown dependent upon “knowledge workers,” the number of technology-literate workers, as well as the degree of their proficiency, will have a profound effect on the United States’ ability to remain a leader in the 21st-century global village.

In 2003, the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD; www.oecd.org) conducted a survey to assess student information and communication technology (ICT) computer use as it correlated with proficiency levels in academic achievement. The Programme for International Student Assessment survey included 41 countries with participation by students between the ages of 15 years 3 months and 16 years 2 months. Exploring the question of whether ICT was living up to its potential in schools and in the lives of young people, the survey showed the relationship between investment in ICT and the growth of Gross Domestic Product (see Figure 3, above). The results suggest that countries will continue to invest in ICT and that there will be increasing demand—from policymakers, parents, and young people themselves—for students to become adept at ICT use in school.

Even this very brief discussion of recent relevant ed-tech surveys conveys the importance of student (not to mention staff and administration) technology aptitude, as well as the extant leadership challenges in ensuring that students acquire it. Students at every level must develop technology skills needed in a globalized economy and society even as traditional funding sources diminish. Meeting this challenge will require even greater collaboration among education, business, community, and government than in the past. But these collaborations can, and must, provide much more than money. The continual application of the ingenuity, creativity, and resourcefulness of such a rich array of dedicated experts can supply the real bandwidth for a new era of technological proficiency and its use in every social and economic sector.

As a simple step forward, visit www.ads2006.org and participate in the America’s Digital Schools 2006 Survey. More information about the survey can be found at www.greavesgroup.com, and at www.hayesconnection.com.

Paula Love is the founder of Epona Express, a consulting firm assisting education leaders with funding strategies. Jane Stahler and Angeline Polities contributed to this article.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2006 issue of THE Journal.

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