Times are hard. According to a recent report, 48 of the 50 states are grappling with $166 billion in budget deficits for the coming year. California’s share of that is at least $26 billion. Districts are cutting librarians, music programs, sports, counselors, assistant principals, nurses, buses, and increasingly, teachers. In California alone, over 26,000 teachers received pink slips this past spring. With all of these cuts, how can the cost of supporting the technology infrastructure be justified?
Times may be hard, but times have also changed. Today’s school district is nothing like it was 10 years ago. In our district, for example, all of our computers are connected to the network and use the network to function. People are saving and retrieving files constantly; network servers are hosting the programs that we access for student software, financial records, attendance, assessment, payroll—you name it, technology handles it.
Today it is virtually impossible for an office worker to accomplish anything without the use of a functioning, network-connected computer. If the network connection goes down, it’s time to take an early lunch. Imagine a bank today without access to its network. It is the same in a typical school district office: everything comes to a screeching halt when the network goes down.
How can we not fund the positions that keep this technology functioning? Is it realistic to think we can just hope the technology keeps working long enough to ride out the tough times? I don’t think so. I liken technology support to an ocean liner. Cut the engines and for awhile, the ship will keep pointing in the right direction and moving quite quickly. All too soon, however, even the QM2 will find itself adrift and out of control.
Let’s insist that technology in the schools be a high priority as we struggle to keep the engines running and our educational enterprise on course.
As a superintendent who supports the infusion of technology in education and seeks to provide 21st century skills for our students, each year finding the funding to support and expand educational technology becomes more difficult. My district is suffering from a “perfect storm” of declining enrollment, a state budget crisis, and being a part of ground zero for foreclosures. As we ponder the crisis before us, the special interests line up and begin their lobbying efforts. Balancing the competing priorities of class size, music, counseling, libraries, athletics, technology, and safety becomes an almost impossible challenge.
“Don’t forget the role of libraries in information literacy,” shout the librarians. “Oh, and while we’re at it, don’t forget the award you got for supporting libraries.”
“How can students suffering from emotional stress be expected to meet state standards?” ask the counselors.
“Music helps build reading skills,” shout the music teachers. “We took our cuts last year.”
“Many of our students will drop out if we cut sports,” moan the coaches.
“Class size reduction is what allows our student to develop basic literacy,” remind the primary teachers.
“I can’t afford printer cartridges now,” complain the teachers who also remind you that you promised them Smartboards.
What’s a superintendent to do? I strongly believe that our students need access to technological tools if they are to learn in a Web 2.0 world. We can’t continue to put tech orders on hold, cut tech support, or fail to provide the basic supplies needed by those who use the technology to support instruction. Certainly technology should suffer its fair share of the hits. But just because we can save large amounts of money by postponing or canceling tech purchases doesn’t mean we should do it.
It’s my job as the instructional leader of the district to advocate for and support the infusion of technology into the curriculum. Teachers won’t use technology that is unreliable due to lack of tech support. Students won’t gain the skills they need for the new workplace by using paper and pencil. Our very future will suffer dramatically if we are forced to use 20th century tools in a 21st century world. To my fellow superintendents I say, “Buck up, cowboys. Find the funds to support the technology. We may need to reprioritize and look at our world a little differently, but we can’t afford to cheat our students by not supporting them with the technology they need to learn 21st century skills.”