Students using computers

K – 12 Challenges: Build and Maintain 21st Century Schools

26 Apr 2015 by Susie Steckner

K – 12 schools have seen dramatic funding decreases in the past decade, forcing administrators to cut back on educational services at the same time schools are being expected to graduate students who are college and career ready. Despite these cuts, administrators remain committed to maintaining technology budgets and growing technology programs to meet the needs of the 21st century classroom.

A 2014 report found that states’ new budgets are providing less per-pupil funding for K – 12 education than they did six years ago, often times far less. Even as states are seeing improved overall revenues, about a third of states began the 2013-2014 school year with less state funding than the previous year, the report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said.

The center’s review of state budgets found:

  • At least 35 states are providing less funding per student for the 2013-2014 school year than they did before the 2007-2009 recession.
  • At least 15 states are providing less funding per student to local school districts in the new school year than they provided a year ago.
  • Where funding has increased, it has generally not increased enough to make up for cuts in past years. For example, New Mexico is increasing school funding by $72 per pupil this year. But that is too small to offset the state’s $946 per-pupil cut over the past five years.

The funding cuts have undermined education reform and schools’ ability to deliver high-quality education, the report said.

“At a time when states and the nation are trying to produce workers with the skills to master new technologies and adapt to the complexities of a global economy, this decline in state educational investment is cause for concern.”

Ed Tech Budgets Remain Strong

Despite these budget woes, administrators report that technology funding remains fairly steady, according to several studies examining ed tech budgets and K – 12. At the same time, some reports conclude that technology funding levels still cannot meet the expectations of district leaders.

MDR’s 2014 State of the K – 12 Market” report found that nearly 90% of districts expect their 2014-2015 technology budgets in hardware, software, teacher training and technical support to stay the same or increase. In fact, four of 10 districts expect to see an increase in their budgets for teacher training, hardware and tech support in the 2014-2015 school year.

The “2012 Vision K-20 Survey,” by the Software & Information Industry Association, revealed similar results. Comparing three years’ worth of data, it found that schools are maintaining their technology spending in five areas: enterprise support, 21st century tools, anytime/anywhere access, differentiated learning and assessment tools.

The survey found:

  • Schools are moving forward with plans to implement technology despite budget cuts, though they noted that they aren’t meeting their hoped-for technology levels.
  • Schools report an increase in technology integration focused on differentiated instruction, assessment tools and information systems.
  • 24% of all participants report that their schools are integrating technology at a high level.

A third report echoed others on K – 12 technology spending. While 30% of respondents report technology budget increases, 54% said they don’t have enough money to “meet overall expectations of the school board/district leaders,’’ according to the “2015 K – 12 IT Leadership Survey” by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).

4 Tech Priorities

Ed tech priorities are continually shifting, but K – 12 leaders are consistently focused on four areas.

  1. Bandwidth: The 2014Principals Assessment of Public Education” reported that 63% of school principals surveyed say they are focused on increasing bandwidth and acquiring mobile devices.

Growing bandwidth is critical, as research shows that 75% of U.S. schools do not have the appropriate network bandwidth to support 1:1 initiatives, according to Insight’s white paper “Fine Tuning Critical Infrastructures in the Age of Common Core and Online Assessments.” The white paper notes that wireless networks and data centers have a lot to support in the digital age: increased personalization, 1:1 classrooms, BYOD initiatives, learning management systems, collaborative learning, streaming video and many other digital platforms and initiatives.

  1. Devices: More and more schools are implementing or expanding 1:1 initiatives. The 2014 “National Survey on Mobile Technology for K – 12 Education” by Amplify found that 71% of districts surveyed reported that at least a quarter of their schools have adopted mobile technology in 2014, up from 60% in 2013. What’s more, 82% of districts are highly interested in implementing or expanding a district-wide 1:1 initiative within the next two years, if budgets allow.

The initiative comes at a significant cost. According to a 2012 cost comparison report by Intel-sponsored Project Red, transitioning to a 1:1 program could cost a school as much as $600 per student per year. That figure includes hardware, software, professional development, training and support. This $600 cost compares with $300 per student per year for a 3:1 set up in a traditional classroom.

  1. Digital content: Schools continue to experiment with flipped, blended and personalized models in the classroom, according to MDR’s 2014 State of the K – 12 Market report. “Support for personalized learning is rated as the most important consideration when districts decide what digital instructional materials to purchase. To that end, they are exploring new instructional models to get students more deeply involved in learning.” The report noted that high schools have embraced this philosophy the most, with 63% of districts implementing flipped learning models in at least some classrooms. 60% are using a flexible blended model in which students take all or most courses online and teachers or paraprofessionals provide face-to-face support as needed.

Advocates of these classroom transformations say that schools can no longer afford a single-minded approach that locks them to one provider of content and one type of content. Instead, schools can maximize opportunities to pick and choose “best of breed” solutions that best meet their students’ needs and can be updated quickly, concluded Intel-sponsored K-12 Blueprint.

  1. Security tools: Cyber and data security are vital concerns for schools, but implementing the best security practices remains challenging. The vast majority of schools don’t have full-time chief security officers and rely heavily instead on their Internet service providers and security vendors, according to the Center for Digital Education.

Meeting Growing Demands in the Classroom

K – 12 schools across the country are employing myriad strategies to stretch and enhance their tech budgets. Three strategies — cloud computing, eTextbooks and accessing free digital resources — are emerging as must-dos for classrooms of the future.

Cloud computing

Schools face enormous costs to expand a wired network, prompting them to move to a combination of wired and wireless, according to the “Principals Assessment of Public Education.” The survey noted that one of the more cost-effective strategies to improve networks is taking advantage of cloud-based technologies. Though most principals say they are not using this technology — just 15% had embraced it — one in four said they are considering moving in that direction.

According to an HP white paper about cloud computing,

“Cloud computing can make high-quality online resources available to more students anywhere, anytime. It can transform mobile devices from distractions into learning tools, and can help teachers empower students through compelling projects such as digital storytelling and multi-media presentations. Moving to the cloud can facilitate web-based collaboration and information sharing among administrators, educators and IT professionals, both inside and outside the district,” the white paper concluded.

Educators at Union County Public Schools in North Carolina see the benefits of cloud-based computing in ways big and small, according to Intel-sponsored K – 12 Blueprint. Teaching with Google apps, such as Good Presentation, puts all kids on a level playing field, said high school teacher Jonathan Harbin.

“In the past, I’d bring in laptops and form small groups. Typically, one student typed the presentation while the others told him what to do. With Google Presentation, everyone has an equal role. Some students work on slides while others do research. A few groups even met online at 10 p.m. to keep working. They were that motivated,” he told K – 12 Blueprint.

eTextbooks

U.S. Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan has called for textbooks to be obsolete in the near future, and the State Technology Directors Association (SETDA) in 2012 recommended that schools begin making this shift and fully transition by the 2017-2018 school year. “In a time of tight budgets and increasing expectations, many schools today purchase both print and digital instructional materials in a duplicative and uncoordinated fashion, with far too little attention to quality and value for money,” said Douglas Levin, SETDA executive director, with the release of “Out of Print: Reimaging the K – 12 Textbook in a Digital Age.”

Though school districts have been slow to embrace this shift, 84% of IT leaders said they expect instructional materials to be at least 50% digital within the next three years, according to the “2015 IT Leadership Survey Report” by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).

The Vail School District in Arizona has grabbed national headlines for its “Beyond Textbooks” initiative that combines easy-to-use web-based tools with proven curriculum and instructional practices. The initiative grew out of the district’s concern about the per-student cost of textbooks for its high school students. Rather than buying books, the district invested in hardware and created a digital curriculum that spread district wide. That curriculum mixes premium content from subscription services with free content and teacher-created materials.

“No vendor can provide it all…I want the Civil War from one vendor, but I want WWII from another…the best bits and pieces from multiple sources that most closely match our instructional goals,’’ the district’s CIO Matt Federoff told Intel-sponsored K – 12 Blueprint.

Free and inexpensive content

In Kentucky, teachers are turning to free digital resources to strengthen their teaching practice and enhance the curriculum, according to a report by the professional learning association Learning Forward. One free resource, from the nonprofit Teaching Channel, gave one teacher quick and easy access to videos that ultimately helped boost learning in the classroom.

“Teaching Channel was my first choice because videos answer lots of questions reading or a PowerPoint won’t answer. Teaching Channel has videos of lessons, pieces of lessons, and most helpful for me, experiments,” the teacher said. “I was teaching students the basics of the atomic structure in class. I watched three Teaching Channel videos and learned more about how to differentiate instruction. After the videos, I was able to come up with two days of instruction where students worked only based upon what they knew and what they did not know about what I’d already taught.

“My students took an exam after these days of instruction and everyone showed improvement in concepts that I had not previously been able to make any progress in,” the teacher said.

Investing in Students’ Futures

K – 12 school districts will continue to face the challenge of building classrooms of the future as their overall budgets shrink. Moving forward with initiatives aimed at preparing students to be college and career ready is crucial, according to the “2010 National Education Technology Plan.”

“To achieve our goal of transforming American education, we must rethink basic assumptions and redesign our education system….We must leverage technology to plan, manage, monitor and report spending to provide decision-makers with a reliable, accurate and complete view of the financial performance of our education system at all levels. Such visibility is essential to meeting our goals for educational attainment within the budgets we can afford.”

Windows 10 in the Classroom

Windows 10 was released in July 2015. In addition, schools that use Windows 7 or 8 can upgrade free to Windows 10 Education, a suite that allows for collaboration and multitasking. Plus, it gives access to a slew of apps, including:

  • More than 23,000 downloadable classic books and programs for Haiku learning
  • Photo editing
  • Music
  • Reading
  • Math learning
  • Reading comprehension
  • An app explaining the tools being used to explore Mars

Your school district can leverage Windows 10 to enhance students’ educational experiences, increase operational efficiencies and reduce expenditures. Talk to a specialist to learn more about using Windows 10 in the classroom.