Follow the Money, Part II: What to Do With It

Follow the Money, Part II: What to Do With It

Last month, Tech&Learning detailed the funding the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) will provide for education technology. This month we survey innovative schools’ leaders on their plans for putting it to good use.

Reinvention Time
Pamela Moran, superintendent of Albemarle County (Va.) public schools, sees ARRA as a once-in-a-lifetime chance. “I don’t think that in the history of public schools—certainly since I entered them in the 1970s—there has been an opportunity such as this,” she says. “The last time there was this kind of infusion of funding support to public schools was with Sputnik.”

One of the unforeseen outcomes of that early satellite’s launch was the redefining and reinvigorating of science in the American public school curriculum. Moran believes that the current stimulus package has similar potential to allow educators to innovate curriculum assessment and instruction. She points to one of her schools as an example. “We had a physics teacher at Albemarle High School who collaborated with other physics teachers in the state to write an open-source virtual physics text that is hosted on a site called,” says Moran. “We are planning to shift the support of our physics instruction and curriculum to this virtual physics text next year; the kids in physics across all comprehensive high schools in our district will use that as their text.”

An advantage of the open-source format is that physics teachers can shift, change, and add to the content as the school year unfolds. It creates a more dynamic, flexible, and responsive tool for the program. “We’re exploring ways of becoming more open-source in terms of text materials, and therefore moving away from traditional textbook publishers,” Moran says. This speaks to generational and technological impediments created by traditional text sources (see the short video clip “Joe’s Non-Netbook” on YouTube for an amusing depiction of this) as well as to cutting costly investments in nonadaptive tools. “We will be using stimulus funding to help support the purchase of technology that will allow us to innovate in these areas,” she says.

Albemarle also intends to use the stimulus funds to secure enhanced extended services through existing relationships with IT providers, such as Schoolnet. “What we’re trying to do is create a kind of one-stop center for teachers, parents, and students,” says Moran. “Anytime we can enhance the services we have by integrating other products to allow access without multiple passwords, to enable the use of active directories, to make it easier for everybody to access the resources we have and would like to make available in a more virtual environment, that’s something we’re going after as well.”

Moran now sees federal funding as a combination of Title I, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) authorization. “As long as we play by the rules of the regulations that accompany those three federal programs, we’re in great shape,” she concludes.

Something Old, Something New
Paul Dargie, vice chairman of the Milford (N.H.) school board, says that the first principle of applying federal stimulus funds is to use the money on things the board was planning to do anyway. “We’re thinking about it terms of tax relief,” he says.

Milford schools are just starting to provide kindergarten classes; public education for five-year-olds was not previously offered by Milford or 14 other districts in the southern part of New Hampshire, the last state in the country not to require its public schools to offer kindergarten. A state law mandating kindergarten has now overridden that policy, the vestige of a long tradition of local autonomy and dislike of taxes.

Starting fresh gives these schools the advantage of implementing the latest techniques. “We’ll be extending our Response to Intervention (RTI) program to accommodate this change,” says Dargie. RTI incorporates a series of quick tests to assess students’ abilities. The tests help identify students who are developmentally delayed or who have other problems that put them in need of additional services, such as summer programs, to help them prepare for the year ahead.

In the past, Milford tested only private-kindergarten students who were scheduled to move into the public system; now that kindergarten is part of the public domain, the program will be extended. Stimulus funds under IDEA will likely cover this program. “In K–5, our computer systems are aging,” Dargie says, “so we expect to use some of the stimulus money to buy new computers and associated software for various training programs—in particular, reading.”

Some of these tools are quite individualized, so students identified as being behind in reading will be taken out of the regular classroom and brought into the computer room in small groups. “There are no specific proposals yet,” says Dargie. “This is in the early-discussion phase, but almost certainly it would fall under the general Title I guidelines.”

A Relaunch in Colorado
Mike Poore, deputy superintendent of School District 11 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, says the district is committed to accessing stimulus funding for technology and innovation through the state. “One of the most dynamic things we’re doing in terms of innovation is moving to reopen a middle school, a charter school, that we had to close because it wasn’t meeting No Child Left Behind (NCLB) standards,” he says.

District 11 is going to take back ownership of the school and run it as a district middle school—but this time in partnership with the Space Foundation, which is headquartered in Colorado Springs. “We haven’t renamed the school yet, but obviously it’s going to have a completely different delivery for kids, and a different level of professional development,” explains Poore. The tech tools the district is talking about are coming from the Space Foundation and from some of its partners, such as Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman. According to Poore, the reopened school will offer a dynamic, interactive, high-tech environment.

“This two-year stimulus opportunity allows us to move forward while we’re dealing with some incredibly difficult challenges,” says Poore. District 11 had to close nine schools recently, for example. “You don’t close nine schools unless you have some pretty deep economic issues,” he continues. “But the stimulus money allows us to think forward over the next two years. Professional development, career pathways, intervention support: All these things will have a positive impact on students.”

-- Marty Weil