DAILY INSIGHT: The perfect storm

By Steve Smith, CIO Advisor

When we hear the term "perfect storm" we usually think of the worst-case scenarios. With enough warning and preparation, though, we can be well-prepared and even harness the power of the storm to make great advances. Schools should now be preparing for the perfect storm in edtech.

For the past 20 years, technology in public education has slowly been gaining momentum. The key here is slowly. This is about to change, or is beginning to change, thanks to a number of initiatives and movements that are poised to propel edtech into high gear.

As with any pending storm, how well we weather the storm will depend upon our preparedness. District IT leaders that have been proactive over the past few years and have positioned their schools well should be propelled by the looming storm well into the land of true 21st-century technology adoption, while those that are not prepared may be crushed by the storm.

The storm's causes

Four of the many initiatives that are major driving forces are:

  • Common Core Assessments
  • STEM Inclusion
  • RTTT funding, and
  • a renewed edtech entrepreneur momentum.

I don't have to go into detail about the Common Assessment push. Whether your state is a PARCC, Smarter Balance, or other assessment-collaboration participant, you are well aware of the need to provide adequate devices, not only for the assessment but also for the teaching and learning leading up to it.

STEM initiatives and the America21 Project are highlighting the disconnect between the jobs of the future and the preparedness of students being produced to fill these jobs. The problem and solutions in this arena are multifaceted and complex, but at the root of the solution is more integration of and access to technology and science for our students. This equates to an additional push and justification for more resources focused on technology in public education.

Race to the Top funding as well as State Longitudinal System funding has gone a long way to pushing systems development across the US for not only data gathering, but also the development of teaching and learning Systems. Whether or not we agree with the approach our State Education Agencies are taking, the focus and resources in this area are producing tools that will eventually reach our teachers and classrooms. This will undoubtedly apply more pressure to the need for technology access and infrastructure in our schools.

Finally, the new momentum of edtech entrepreneur groups is spurring innovation and application development in a market that has been historically very slow to change. The renewed interest in the edtech market is drawing new capital investment through groups like LearnLaunch. This buzz of interest and activity is likely to spawn a new generation of applications targeting teaching and learning.

These four movements, as well as a host of other initiatives, have the potential to hit our public schools with the force of a perfect storm. There is great potential for schools and districts to ride the wave of the storm to do great things. There is also potential for some schools to be smothered by the wave and not know which way is up. The outcomes will depend on the preparedness and proactiveness of the district technology leaders. Those that have been focused on things like infrastructure, bandwidth, multiple OS support, multiple mobile device support, wireless, back-end integration, data standards, and support will be best positioned.

The future for edtech in K-12 public education is bright. The next few years will see enormous change and opportunity. Let's all work together to ensure no schools are swamped by the impending perfect storm.

Steve Smith is CIO of the Cambridge Public Schools in Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter as @ssmithcambridge.

Steve Smith is CIO at Cambridge Public Schools in Cambridge, Mass., an active leader in the Student Data Privacy Alliance, and a member of A4L’s board of directors.