Guest Viewpoint

IT Leadership: Key Facts to Advance Ed Tech in America

Key Facts to Advance Ed Tech in America

In the last few months, there has been no shortage of new data surrounding education. Like the Twitter and news cycle, it's hard to keep up and make sense of what statistics matter most to help address the needs of districts today. 

When it comes to advancing 21st-century learning settings, I'm going to catch you up and give you the statistics that you need to know.

Earlier this spring, CoSN unveiled the new findings from our 2018 National K-12 IT Leadership Survey Report. Conducted in partnership with Dude Solutions and MDR, the annual survey provides the education community with insights from school system technology leaders on their challenges and priorities.

This year's report found that school leaders place a high priority on cybersecurity and broadband/network capacity. When asked to rate the importance of privacy and security of student data, 68 percent of IT leaders indicated that it was more important than the prior year. For the fourth straight year, budget constraints are the top challenge facing school technology leaders, followed by the unavailability of relevant training and professional development, as well as the existence of silos in school districts.

In addition, integrating technology into the classroom continues to be the most understaffed IT function in schools — it has remained the most understaffed IT function for three straight years by a significant margin. And 43 percent of respondents said that their staffs are "stretched too thin."

Another national report that requires your attention came from the U.S. Department of Education in the spring. The national study on "Student Access to Digital Learning Resources Outside of the Classroom," which was mandated by Congress, identified significant gaps in home broadband access among K-12 students. More important, it addressed what is commonly known as the "homework gap."

The report found that there is a significant difference between the percentage of all U.S. households with internet access (77 percent) and the percentage of households with students ages 3 to 18 with internet access (61 percent). The two main reasons children ages 3 to 18 lacked access to the internet at home were expenses and lack of interest. The study also showed that 80 percent of 8th graders reported using a computer at home for schoolwork on a weekday, putting students without home internet access at a significant disadvantage.

Geographic locale also plays an important role in home-based internet access. Students in remote rural and distant rural areas generally have more limited internet access than students in suburbs, cities or towns. The academic impact of these disparities is significant. The report found that students without home internet access had lower assessment scores in reading, mathematics and science across a range of national and international assessments. International comparisons against advanced countries showed that the United States had a higher-than-average percentage of 16 to 19 year olds with the lowest level of computer literacy skills.

The study makes clear that additional research is needed to assess how technology is being used for education purposes outside of school. It also underscores the critical role of the E-rate program in ensuring equality of internet access in American schools, as well as the importance of Lifeline modernization, which includes broadband as a support service for low-income families.

While internet and connectivity gains are being made nationwide, it's clear that schools and students are still at a big disadvantage. Many school systems lack the funding and professional resources to modernize their learning environments. And many students lack access to the connectivity needed to complete assigned homework and make use of the increasing educational resources and tools available online.

In the 21st century, this should not be the case. Providing all schools and students equitable learning environments and opportunities is a civil rights issue. The new data further highlights this national priority and the need for continued action by our local and federal leaders.

About the Author

Keith R. Krueger is the CEO of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).