Sleepless in Washington
Ed tech money is finally flowing from Capitol Hill. So why are education leaders so
filled with angst? Because of a nightmare scenario in which the funding goes wasted.
IN "TALKIN' WORLD WAR III BLUES," Bob
Dylan dreams he is walking in World War III. He talks to a psychiatrist,
who reveals he has been having a similar dream.
Dylan notes, "Now it seems/Everybody's having them dreams."
It's a thought that sprang to mind during my recent trip to
Washington, DC, to meet with the board of the State Educational
Technology Directors Association (SETDA), and visit with people at the Department of Education
and with congressional staffers. The meetings focused on the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also known
as the economic stimulus package.
Of course, the nightmare striking so many education leaders
in the nation's capital right now is not quite as foreboding
as what Dylan sang about. But like the song says, everybody
is having the same one: The year is 2011, and unopened
boxes of computers and software are stacked in the backs
of classrooms across America-- technology purchased with
ARRA money, wasting away, unused.
This is not an unreasonable fear. The more than $10
billion in Title I grants alone provided to schools by the stimulus
bill is a daunting amount of money to spend-- not to
mention the nearly $12 billion in funding for the Individuals
With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and $55 billion in
state stabilization money. And this is in addition to the
fiscal year 2009 Title I funds that districts were already
slated to receive.
The first 50 percent of the ARRA Title I money reached
the states by the end of last month, and, encouraged by
the DoE, many states will soon be forwarding the money along
to school districts. Educators must not only spend the money
prudently but spend it quickly. According to guidelines submitted
by the DoE, "In the absence of a waiver, an LEA [local
educational agency] must obligate 85 percent of its total FY
2009 Title I, Part A, funds (including ARRA funds) by Sept. 30,
2010. Any remaining FY 2009 Title I, Part A, funds will be
available for obligation until Sept. 30, 2011."
To many school districts, technology is an excellent
one-time purchase that can fulfill the requirement of spending
money quickly. Any educator seasoned in the use of technology
knows it's more complicated than that.
In simple terms, school districts have a little more than
two years to unload the money they're getting.
Under the terms of ARRA, districts must use
federal money to supplement-- not supplant--
the state or local funding used to support their
educational programs. In other words, Title I
funds must be used to pay for goods and
services that are not being financed by local or
As a result, Title I recipients will be looking for
fresh ways to spend their share of the stimulus
funds. To many of them, technology seems to be
a logical place to start: It's an excellent one-time
purchase that can fulfill the requirement of
spending money quickly, and it doesn't have to
be sustained beyond the two years of the stimulus
package. Any educator seasoned in the use
of technology knows it's more complicated than
that. Every piece of technology purchased also
needs to be accompanied by technical support,
as well as training in how to use it and how to
use it successfully with students. And almost
every technology purchase will put demands on
school and district networks.
Finally, technologies don't last forever. Districts that plan
well refresh their computers every three to five years.
Today's technology purchases will need to be upgraded or
replaced soon enough.
Fortunately, there is help on the horizon, starting with the
DoE guidelines that accompany the ARRA funding and
provide districts with ideas on how to best spend their
portion of the Title I pot. These guidelines, available here, provide eight "examples of potential uses of the
Title I, Part A, recovery funds that are allowable under Title I
and consistent with ARRA principles."
While these are only examples, Title I coordinators should
pay attention to the spirit of what the DoE is suggesting.
One example addresses programs for students to meet
outside of the normal school day, before or after school,
during the summer, or over an extended school year; another
example encourages pre-K programs. Two others focus on
professional development for teachers and principals-- one
on using data to inform and improve instruction, and one on
Two of the eight examples address technology specifically:
- Providing new opportunities for Title I schoolwide programs
for secondary school students to use high-quality online
courseware as supplemental learning materials for meeting
mathematics and science requirements.
- Using longitudinal data systems to drive continuous
improvement efforts focused on improving achievement
in Title I schools.
The nightmarish thought of ARRA money being squandered
does not have to become reality. There is a better future out
there, one in which ed tech money is not wasted and districts
can boast of the benefits brought by the multitude of purchases
they have made with the funding they received. I can't
say I've been to the mountaintop, but I have had a dream.
It's a dream in which the district's technology director and
its Title I coordinator sit down and talk about their needs.
The Title I leader talks about where he would like to see an
emphasis on school improvement from the district. The technology
director brings out technology plans and ideas on
how to approach applying for the No Child Left Behind Act's
competitive Title II-D money under ARRA.
In one state at least, I see my dream coming true. With
help from the ed tech staff at Alabama's Department of
Education, Title I money is funding 21st-century classrooms
in each of the state's seven high schools in need of improvement.
These technology-rich classrooms not only have
computers, projection devices, and other technologies, but
the Title I dollars also are funding part-time technology
coaches for teachers and part-time evaluators to try to
gauge the impact of the new tech-infused environment on
students. It's too early to determine and assess the results,
but this robust approach to implementing technology to
serve students shows what can happen when ed tech and
Title I staff work together.
At the helm of this effort is Joseph Morton, Alabama's
superintendent of education. With the flush of new Title I funding
arriving via the stimulus package, Morton has pulled
together the department's top-ranking officials over finance
(for grants), curriculum and instruction, federal programs, special
education, and educational technology. Together, they have
begun to plan for using the ARRA money effectively and getting
it to school districts as quickly as possible. They share any
information they receive from professional associations
such as SETDA, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the US Department of Education.
Demonstrating his brand of leadership, Morton has invited
all district superintendents in the state to a meeting. Morton
has asked that each superintendent bring a team that mirrors
his own team at the state DoE.
At the meeting, Morton will have the members of his team
discuss what effect the stimulus money is going to have on
each of their programs. Of particular note will be the message
brought by Melinda Maddox, Alabama's director of technology
initiatives. She is encouraging any district looking to use
stimulus money to purchase technology-- no matter what part
of the dollars it receives (Title I, Title II-D, IDEA)-- to take into
consideration professional development, tech support, and
Maddox says, "My message will be clear: Make sure your ed
tech director is at the table."
Technology directors, CIOs, tech-savvy teachers: Call, text,
or e-mail your new best friend-- the person responsible for
Title I in your school or district. Without your help, the nightmare
that I heard so much about in my visit to Washington
may indeed come true. To borrow from Dylan, if everyone's
having the same dream, I want it to be mine.
Geoff Fletcher is editorial director of T.H.E. Journal.
This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2009 issue of THE Journal.