3 students putting their hands together

Shrinking K – 12 Funding Fosters Innovation, Collaboration, Partnerships

26 May 2015 by Susie Steckner

K – 12 schools across the country are feeling the budget pinch — funding is down, expectations are up. To keep pace with today’s evolving classroom, cost-conscious educators are relying on innovation and collaboration to meet district goals, improve student outcomes and prepare for future needs.

School districts are shuffling budgets and finding solutions large and small. Those experiences play out every day in districts like the Laredo Independent School District, home to 25,000 students in an isolated region in south Texas. Faced with budget constraints and a lack of travel funds, the district sought a creative solution to expanding students’ horizons beyond their region.

The answer? Video conferencing and partnerships. The district turned to Insight and Tandberg to duplicate what was working around the country — cutting-edge video technology. It also tapped subsidized federal funding to drastically reduce out-of-pocket costs.

The initiative opened the door to opportunity, allowing students to virtually interact with classrooms around the globe, take “field trips” to historical sites, broadcast school events to students’ family and friends, and virtually explore college campuses. Meantime, staff members used the technology to virtually attend district-wide meetings, which eliminated mileage expenses and travel costs, and also take part in staff development programs.

“With the implementation and integration of video conferencing technology, students, faculty and district employees can now have virtual opportunities to open their minds to new experiences they wouldn’t otherwise have,” according to an Insight case study.

Budget Blues

K – 12 school districts continue to face budget challenges. Even in districts where ed tech budgets are stable or increasing, administrators report that they still don’t have adequate funding to meet expectations of school board members and other district leaders.

A 2014 report found that states’ new budgets are providing less per-pupil funding for K – 12 education that they did six years ago, often times far less. Even as states are seeing improved overall revenues, about a third of states began the 2013-14 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 2013-14 school year than they did before the 2007-2009 recession hit.
  • 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.

Despite these challenges, investing in technology programs is critical.

“Substantial evidence shows that technology has a positive financial impact, but for best results, schools need to invest in the re- engineering of schools, not just technology itself. Properly implemented educational technology can be revenue-positive at all levels — federal, state and local,” according to a report by Intel-sponsored Project Red.

Education Success

Facing continued budget woes, school districts must be selective in how they shuffle budgets, and implement or build on existing technology programs.

“Although educational technology best practices have a significant positive impact, they are not widely and consistently practiced. Effective technology implementation in schools is complex, with hundreds of interrelated factors playing a part,” according to the Project Red report.

So if just one factor fails, the success of the entire program is jeopardized. A case in point: A 1:1 initiative is implemented without sufficient internet bandwidth. Students and teachers are frustrated and the devices aren’t used as much as they could be, the report noted.

Project Red identified nine key factors that are closely linked to education success:

  • Intervention classes: Technology is integrated into every intervention class period.
  • Change management leadership by principal: Leaders provide time for teacher professional learning and collaboration at least monthly.
  • Online collaboration: Students use technology daily for online collaboration (games/simulations and social media).
  • Core subjects: Technology is integrated into core curriculum weekly or more frequently.
  • Online formative assessments: Assessments are done at least weekly.
  • Student-computer ratio: Lower ratios improve outcomes.
  • Virtual field trips: With more frequent use, virtual trips are more powerful. The best schools do this at least monthly.
  • Search engines: Students use them daily.
  • Principal training: Principals are trained in teacher buy-in, best practices and technology-transformed learning.

Technology Every Day

K – 12 leaders who have focused spending on rich technology programs — including everything from infrastructure to devices — say the success of the programs largely relies on a commitment to incorporating technology into daily teaching and learning.

“For student performance to approximate student potential, students need access to a constantly evolving array of technological tools and activities that demand problem-solving, decision-making, teamwork and innovation,” wrote K – 12 leader Nancye Blair for the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

A Cisco case study on middle-school students at Brookline School in Pittsburgh perfectly illustrates this point.

The students collaborated with counterparts in Ireland — via videoconferencing — on an innovative research project about the Titanic. The students in Ireland researched the historical significance of the ship’s construction in their city while the Brookline students explored some of the ship’s more important passengers. The two groups of students met several times weekly through videoconferencing to create an hour-long program that was later shown to another middle school.

Priorities Ahead

Schools building 21st century classrooms have long lists of tech priorities that are ever-evolving, according to Bob Moore, an ed-tech specialist and contributor to Intel-sponsored K-12 Blueprint. In his recent K-12 Blueprint post, he noted that CIOs can “cover a lot of ground and have a significant impact,’’ by focusing on a few key areas. They include:

  1. Infrastructure. It is critical that networks offer the speed and reliability that schools require. Schools that do not have IT staff with the expertise to engineer and manage networks should take advantage of technology vendor partners.
  2. Access. Schools must ensure that students, teachers and staff have access to the devices, content, apps and data they need, when they need it. They should leverage cloud services when possible.
  3. Devices. Students are involved in multiple activities and tasks during the school year. Having the right device, not just any device, is critical.
  4. Data. Technology gives schools the ability to generate, collect, store and analyze data both in volume and frequency like never before. “Learning analytics” is an important new category of applications that CIOs need to become familiar with as they provide guidance to district stakeholders.

“With so many pressing issues, CIOs need to focus on some ‘big fish’ that are critical for everything we consider essential to a digital learning environment,” said Moore.

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