Making Sense of Nonsense - Diverted Tech Funding in Texas


"The pencil can’t improve learning without good teaching, but man . . . it would stink not to have pencils."
Source: Michelle, Comments, iPads Can't Improve Learning Without Good Teaching
A fascinating discussion brewing about Texas' Instructional Materials Allotment (IMA) on a Texas-wide email list for technology directors. In case you're not familiar with the IMA, it replaced the state technology allotment used to fund technology purchases and staffing in Texas public schools. Funding for technology training and hardware was essentially merged in with textbooks.

The Texas Legislature's decision to merge the funding streams has repercussions for school districts:
  1. Funding for district instructional technology specialists--previously funded through the State Technology Allotment--is basically all "goofed up." There's a complex process to pay people that provide training in school districts and, from my perspective, it doesn't work. If your district values technology professional development, then other funding sources are sought out to continue paying for staff. If not, those people are unemployed or, I predict, will be by the end of the biennium. Some large urban districts liquidated their staffing, eliminating entire Educational Technology Departments (e.g. Austin ISD and Dallas ISD). The consequence to school districts is that technology is now "everyone's responsibility" which in public school parlance, that means no one.
  2. Funding for technology is diverted to textbook purchases or central office pushed comprehensive technology solutions with minimal impact - This has become a sad reality in districts where the Director of Technology or CTO didn't report to the Superintendent. In other Districts, folks found themselves squabbling with their Curriculum and Instruction folks--often, more skilled at grabbing money to support their programs--and watching technology funding go to textbooks. Let me say that again. Technology money being spent on textbooks. Also, money also gets diverted to purchase integrated learning systems, tutorial software, programs that drill on content rather than emphasizing contemporary technology literacy.
Greg Caldwell, a retiring Director of Technology for a small, Texas school district, makes the following observations that many of his colleagues and counterparts can't help but agree with:
Based on the Legislative Update I attended at TCEA entitled “Making Sense of the Instructional Allotment,” IMA be around for a while.

I attended hoping to speak privately with some of the panel members. Several points were on my agenda:
1)      IMA is lacking because of the cuts in total funds as compared to the two separate allotments.
2)      On top of the cuts, many tech people at small districts that I have talked with are not getting any of the funds. Many of the “textbook coordinators” feel the funds are all theirs. I realize this is an internal issue but it just clouds IMA even further.
3)      IMA adds several layers of to the process of buying technology that was not there before. Tech people to textbook coordinator to TEA, back to textbook people then to business office to find out when the funds are available, then FINALLY, submit the PO for approval....

One of the comments from the legislators was their surprise at the low percentage of funds that had been spent on technology. I’m not. At a lot of school districts, technology gets anything that might be left over after the textbook coordinators are done. IMA is leading to an even bigger shortfall in technology spending. Once again, we are dealt more cuts in funding that is being sold as an improvement or even an increase (again).                                                 
Source: http://goo.gl/g1gw3 
While state organizations like TCEA have done their best to couch their suggestions for advocacy as an internal district affair, the truth is that if the relationship isn't there between CTO and the District Leadership Team, technology programs in schools are dead in the water and start sinking into the depths of oblivion!

I'm often reminded of C.S. Lewis' remark that Christianity has been less a failure and more something that hasn't been tried. Technology implementation in many Texas districts resembles this remark, as we watch districts run after the latest and greatest technologies, spending precious funding without really getting anywhere. The reason why is that the money is spent on interactive whiteboards, expensive devices that are to revolutionize instruction...but seldom is the money spent on professional learning for teachers. I often recall a discussion I had with one of my supervisors. 
"The good news is that these no significant difference (NSD) studies provide substantial evidence that technology does not denigrate instruction" (Read source)
"Simply stated...the idea that measurable learner outcomes, when replicable using different media, indicate that the selection of the media has little to do with learner outcomes...rather, the method that the media share in delivering content is the true catalyst that leads to understanding."
Source: http://spark.parkland.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=ramage_pubs
A fellow director and I were advocating to our Superintendent on behalf of an expenditure of funding to buy software, training in a proposal NOW while we had the hardware in schools. Like a 3-legged stool, our proposal stood on providing the right software, professional learning opportunities, and hardware. Of course, with technology and Curriculum & Instruction (C&I) working in separate silos, that initiative only met with limited success...trying to bring about change IS difficult, and I'm convinced the best place for it to happen is in small, more nimble districts rather than large aircraft carrier districts that may have institutional amnesia and are unable/unwilling to change.

This has profound consequences, not only for funding but for the public's perception and embrace. Consider Ed Fuller's remarks, as cited by Joe Smith from www.texasisd.com:
ENOUGH with technology innovations as the savior for classroom instruction. They said the same about movies, tvs, then the computer, and now hand-held devices, smart-boards, etc etc. What many kids desperately need is a well-prepared, well-supported teacher with a small enough student load to connect with the kids who desperately need a stable adult in their lives. But, there is no way to make a profit from , you know, ACTUALLY PROVIDING WHAT KIDS NEED!!! Our leaders--Obama, Duncan, Gates, the business community, etc simply don’t get it because they had stable adults in their lives. Start with what kids NEED MOST, not frills that cost a lot of money for a marginal impact
Unfortunately, the anti-technology remarks like Ed Fuller (as cited here by www.texasisd.com's Joe Smith) highlights school leaders' failure to focus on technology for productivity, information management, and creativity/collaboration/connectivity. Instead, central office school leaders' run to a host of vendor-developed boondoggles that ultimately cost a lot of money for marginal impact. I've spent most of my career in education and instructional technology trying to educate leaders about the best uses of technology in schools, rather than just spending money on integrated learning systems. 

These anti-technology reflections from people who may not be able to see the inside process of how funding gets diverted in school can't be faulted for missing the brief sparkles, like those reported below by Texas technology directors on an email list:
  • We are actually in the process of that and will finalize it in June 2012 over our 2 years of the Connection Grant. I have preliminary data at this point. We have shown improvement in all areas of our AEIS including state testing, sub pops, dropout rates, and completion rates, etc. as a result of MANY factors – extensive PD, 1:1 initiative, online digital context 24/7, community support, and focused attention on Math and Science.
  • Technology immersion had a statistically significant effect on TAKS mathematics achievement, particularly for economically advantaged and higher achieving students. 
  • Students who had greater access to laptops and used laptops for learning to a greater extent, especially outside of school, had significantly higher TAKS reading and mathematics scores 
I can still remember the thick 3-ring binder of research I carried around for a few years--now, just throw those into Evernote. In one of the studies, it cited how we continue to spend money on expensive technology solutions to enhance curriculum delivery and monitoring. Yet, the real challenge is that our expectations for children using technology have NOTHING to do with that, and everything to do with what students can do with technology.

When I was a youngster educator, I was fond of two quotes and I did everything I could to make them true wherever I ended up:
Hardware without software is just junk, but software without teaching is just noise. 
Ask not what computers can do with students, but rather, what students can do with computers.

The fundamental tension between what computers and other technologies DO to students and what students can do with computers remains today. Whether you're talking about interactive whiteboards, iPads, netbooks running Linux, the fundamental expectation remains:
What the heck are your students and staff doing with them--as well as in collaboration with each other--to transform what they are studying from information/data into knowledge?
Source: http://i370.photobucket.com/albums/oo149/christabeletheriel/neomatrix.jpg
In a conversation with a CTO for a medium-sized Texas district, he described his job as being the actualizer for C&I's bankrupt vision of what happens in schools. I've been waiting for C&I to wake up and focus their efforts less on instructional drill-n-practice, and move to cognitively demanding, globally connected, collaborative acts of creation by students.

In today's environment of "doing more with less," it's a crying shame when we short-change technology efforts in schools because the way leaders imagined it involved drill-n-practice and tutorial with technology rather than how we need to be using technology.


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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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