What funding trends can educators expect for the year ahead?
If necessity is the mother of invention, 2007 should be a banner year for K-12 educational technology. Deep cuts in federal dollars have reduced funds earmarked for technology while school districts face rising computing demands. From addressing No Child Left Behind testing requirements to dealing with the proliferation of student-owned devices, administrators are under pressure to do more with less.
While districts have made investments in their infrastructure—almost 45 percent of schools enjoy wireless connectivity—they still have a ways to go when it comes to hardware and software. "Many of us have gotten faster connections and desktops for teachers," said Sheryl Abshire, administrative coordinator of technology in the Calcasieu Parish School System in Lake Charles, Louisiana. "Now we want to get the technology into students' hands."
Cheryl Lemke, CEO of the Metiri Group, echoes similar sentiments. "Educators are working really hard to get the data warehouse and student information systems results on teachers' desks, but it hasn't come full circle yet." According to Lemke, teachers have access to data but not necessarily the tools to apply it—for example, being able to connect to online, research-based resources for differentiated instruction.
But with 70 percent of districts expecting flat or declining technology budgets, according to the latest MDR K-12 District Technology Survey, taking this next step poses a challenge. Hardware and hardware upgrades topped the list as the greatest area of need for 71 percent of school districts with IT support and software/online content tied at 59 percent and 58 percent, respectively. Tech training rounded out the area of greatest need for 50 percent of districts.
Much of the shortfall comes from a decline in federal funding for the Enhancing Education through Technology (EETT) initiative—funds used in many states to provide support for technology and training for teachers.
"This is the first year that the states will feel the Federal Enhancing Education through Technology (EETT) cuts," says Christina Fox, director of professional development and research for the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA). This coming school year, EETT funds will drop to $275 million, 55 percent of the $495 million available last year. At press time, the House of Representatives appropriations committee voted to completely eliminate the program in 2007-2008.
"Most of our school districts used EETT for supplements for school technology coordinators," says Melinda Maddox, director of technology initiatives with the Alabama Department of Education. These coordinators provide local support for the statewide student information management system, help teachers use technology in the classroom, and troubleshoot technical problems. In Abshire's Louisiana district, the funds support experts who help teachers use technology to achieve standards and accountability goals.
As funding cuts work their way down to districts, demands for more testing and adequate yearly progress persist. In 2006-07, for example, schools will begin testing science achievement in addition to annual math and reading tests.
Further pressure will come from a movement to require that 65 percent of operational budgets go directly to classroom instruction as defined by the National Center for Educational Statistics. Promoted by the nonprofit First Class Education, the "65 percent solution" has passed in Texas and Georgia with inroads in Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Oregon.
The high cost of administering small grants based on formula funding has led some states to shift EETT funds to competitive grants. According to the SETDA 2006 National Trends Report, 48 percent of formula grants in 2006 were less than $5,000, requiring almost 50 percent of administrative support for just 4 percent of funds.
"Districts are competing for ever-smaller pools of funds," says Fox. "Some states have no educational technology funding at all outside of EETT." While many states expand their funding through partnerships, the federal funding serves as a catalyst to launch those initiatives, according to Fox. For example, the Michigan Freedom to Learn initiative used EETT funds to provide the state's students and teachers with wireless laptops.
"Declining revenues for technology in schools is problematic, given that we need students to be more entrepreneurial and worldly," says Lemke. "We need to get smarter and more research based in how we use the funds."
The good news is that new technologies and faster, cheaper, and more flexible applications may help innovative districts gain more access to the infrastructure already in place. But as always, the onus will be on school leaders to make the case for continuing support for technology.
Karen Greenwood Henke is founder of Nimble Press. She writes a blog about funding for classrooms and technology in education at blog.grantwrangler.com.
A sampling of trends to watch for in the coming year.
Technology initiatives tied to math and science competitiveness. "We are moving from a reading focus to math, science, and technology. The Governor and legislature understand the need for that," says Melinda Maddox, whose state of Alabama doubled school funds for technology in the 2007 budget to $350 per teacher. Also of note: $182 million in federal funds has been earmarked for the Mathematics and Science Partnership.
Interactive tools that go beyond computer monitors and keyboards. "Whiteboards intrigue teachers because they make the classroom more engaging and interactive," says Lemke. "I also see a lot of interest in quick response systems. They make children's thinking visible."
Technologies, such as online video and podcasting, for creating low-cost tutorials. "Now [teachers] can create demos of using technology in [their] classroom and produce them almost over night" for professional development, says Jennifer House, president of RedRock Reports, a grant data subscription service.
Cell phone policies reconsidered. Increasingly, educators have to contend with what students carry with them to school as much as with what the district sanctions as learning tools through purchases and distribution. According to the latest NetDay Speak Up Day survey of 185,000 students, 75 percent of students in grades 6-12 use cell phones weekly and only 13 percent reported that they did not have a cell phone.