High Schools : Maryland : Buying Power

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MARY, A HIGH SCHOOL SCIENCE teacher, was giving her class instructions for a research project on the effects of global warming. "You will have six weeks to complete the assignment," she said, "and you will have full access to the online databases available through the school's library mediacenter, both at school and at home."

The class stared at Mary as if she had two heads. She had forgotten that her students had no such access to resources because she was now at a school that could not afford to purchase online databases.

A few years ago, this was not, as it is here, a hypothetical scenario, but the reality for many schools in Maryland. Through interactions with each other, school library media supervisors discovered that they were in many cases paying vastly different per-pupil prices for the same databases. This was partly due to the variation in the size of districts in Maryland; the state's 24 school systems range from around 2,300 to 138,000 students. But given a level playing field, some supervisors were simply better negotiators than others.

Supported by the federal Enhancing Education Through Technology program, library administrators in the state organized a grassroots initiative to create a statewide purchasing consortium for the acquisition of online databases. This would mean greater pricing equity among the districts and enable them to leverage their purchasing power. In 2002, all 24 districts in the state joined together and applied for funding through the competitive portion of EETT. The goal of the project was to give students and teachers in the state with cost-effective anytime access to a collection of online resources to assist teaching and learning, as well as support strategic goals of the "Maryland Educational Technology Plan for the New Millennium: 2007-2012" and the Maryland Teacher Technology Standards.

The Baltimore City school system is now spending virtually thesame amount of money for 20-plus preK-12 databasesas it used to spend for just one elementary-level database.

Funding came through in 2003, and the following year the MDK12 Digital Library was born. The electronic databases the project provided were evaluated and selected by a steering committee according to specific criteria, such as currency, readability, authority, and ease of navigation. They also had to support Maryland content standards. School districts in the state tried varying means of professional development for learning to use the databases. In Baltimore County Public Schools, for instance, the library media and content specialists worked together to create research models for use by teachers with their students.

At the state level, content coordinators at the Maryland Department of Education supplied training on tying digital content to curriculum at their state briefings and as part of the Maryland Governor's Academy, which is run during the summer and provides teachers with instructional strategies to help students meet Maryland's high school assessment benchmarks. In addition, digital content is embedded in the social studies coursework developed by Maryland Virtual Learning Opportunities, which offers online classes for high school credit.

To date, the project has been instrumental in helping Maryland school districts net significant cost savings—more than $500,000 statewide—freeing up funds to purchase additional resources. One dramatic example of the money the consortium has saved districts is seen in the Baltimore City Public School System. Sheila Grap, the district's manager of library information technology, reports that prior to the project, the district was spending $146,000 a year for one database at the elementary school level. Now BCPSS is able to purchase 20-plus databases for grades preK-12 for one year at an almost identical cost. MDK12 has been most beneficial for high schools, which make the most frequent use of digital content. With the savings generated by the project, districts now have the funds to purchase more online databases for their high school students.

Results from evaluation surveys affirm the positive impact of providing students with greater access to information and resources. Because of the MDK12 Digital Library project, educators can now offer to all Maryland students current, reliable, authoritative information derived from articles found in newspapers, magazines, and journals. No longer will any of these students be regarded as have-nots in the digital divide.

Gail C. Bailey is director of school library media programs forMontgomery County Public Schools. Jayne E. Moore is directorof instructional technology and school library media for theMaryland State Department of Education.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2008 issue of THE Journal.

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