I guess you know when you are getting old when you can say things like, “I have watched educational technology in California for thirty years.” Unfortunately, this statement is all too true in my case. From the days of AB 803 to the current state initiatives, the State of California developed many technology master plans and visions for technology in education.
Recently, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson called together a group of bright and energetic stakeholders from across the state to update the California State Technology Plan. As this talented group headed to Sacramento, I thought, “If I could have three wishes that could actually be granted by this group, what would they be?” After some hours of pondering—and lowering of expectations from grand to achievable in the present budget environment—I was left with these:
Wish Number 1: A simple tech plan
While Wish Number 1 would cost no money, it could save hundreds of hours of time at each school and district. Right now we have the “kitchen sink” template for technology planning. It includes detailed planning for the next three to five years out. The resulting document easily exceeds 100 pages. Much more beneficial would be a simple two to five page document that is updated yearly/bi-yearly in light of the changing technology and budget landscape that might be accomplished within that shortened period. This makes particular sense given how quickly the tech environment changes. Fives years ago, who could have foretold the present explosion of mobile technologies, software as a service, and lightweight operating systems? Certainly not Microsoft.
Wish Number 2: On-line learning
Most of the nation has devised a plan to enable schools and districts to provide on-line learning and for districts to collect ADA for student participation in these programs as part of the general educational program. On-line learning in its many forms is not a futuristic vision, but is a fact for most industries, local governments and state educational systems. Woefully, this is not reality in California. California should look to the many states that appear to have this figured out and adopt or adapt one of their systems. Last year, it appeared we might have new legislation that would allow our schools to offer on-line learning, but at the last minute the bill was gutted and morphed into a bill to protect shark fins. (Really! You can’t make this stuff up.) California’s students should have the same priority as shark fins, but in the meantime, we deprive students of valuable options.
Wish Number 3: Funding for schools
Funding for technology in California has varied between miniscule and non-existent. Given this dearth of funding, two general strategies have been used, both based upon the notion that since there is so little money in the pot, equal distribution would be too small to make a difference. One strategy has been to pool funding into more significant amounts and have schools write grants to access resources. Using this strategy, successful applicants might have enough money to implement a program. The second, and current, plan gives funding to leadership projects and county offices to provide services within the counties. What’s the matter with that approach? The answer is pretty simple. Learning takes place in schools, and if no money is going there then students never get it. In some form, at least half of the state funding should find its way to support schools.
Some general principles
In granting my three wishes, there are some general principles I recommend to the Task Force. First, allow for a great deal of local discretion in planning and implementation. California is a big place and planning for the whole state is difficult if not impossible to do from Sacramento. How can a single school district in a remote area of the state do the same things that a large urban district might? Would you even want them to try? Second, shoot for the middle. The average teacher and student are not looking for a cutting edge solution but for simple, easy-to-use, proven technologies. Lastly, plan for a “beer budget.” We don’t have the funding to support grand designs and would be better not to start there. California is more like the Simpsons than the Kardashians, and a plan that acknowledges the budgetary facts would be welcome.
Well that’s it, my three wishes. None of these would cost additional money and could be accomplished in the next school year. Not a grand vision of a digitally connected future with each student linked to a myriad of digital resources, but a more pragmatic look at what can actually be done.