District Leaders Plead to Stop Using 'Tech Plans'

District leaders across the country think it is time to stop viewing technology as a luxury, and instead view it as a critical tool for teaching and learning. This means the creation of one plan that weaves technology throughout the school district.

by Susan Gentz / August 23, 2017 0

The technology plan informs schools how they will use, purchase and refresh hardware and software. Although it should be standard issue for any district that encourages students to learn through innovative models, technology is still detached from the holistic district mission and vision. The needle has moved for technology use in the classroom from early adopters to mainstream, yet technology is often still pulled out of the “standard” plan and viewed as a luxury, not an everyday tool for student learning.

We don’t have “projector plans” or “audio plans." We simply know that these tools can be used for teaching and learning. Devices fall into the same category. Instead of a teacher operating a single projector at the front of the classroom, every student has access to their own computer device. Once technology devices are seen as a tool, like a projector or whiteboard, the conversation will only make sense if they are included as part of a standard district mission and vision.

The need for broadband, devices, data security, privacy protocols and network infrastructure is as normal as a textbook is to create learning opportunities that engage students. Yet when districts do updates and refreshes, these needs are separated into two different plans. Superintendents across the country are in agreement that the best way to go about technology integration is to stop calling it the "technology plan," and simply insert technology into the district plan. A change such as this would need to be very carefully planned and coordinated, with a tremendous amount of collaboration, especially in terms of E-rate funds.

Under rules promulgated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an E-Rate applicant approved for Priority 2 discounts must affirmatively certify that it is covered by an approved technology plan. The premise of the requirement for an approved technology plan is to assure that E-rate funding will be used effectively. This can all be done in a holistic district plan, but districts must ensure they are in compliance with the requirements from the FCC to avoid the possible loss of those dollars.

Luxury or standard?

Air conditioners in Texas schools haven’t always been seen as “standard." In fact, districts had to budget for AC units, and if budgets were short, districts could opt to not spend funds to cool off staff and students. Today, there would be public outrage if districts decided not to turn on the AC. So what happened? What made this technology go from a luxury to a requirement?

There are always many factors, but two main ones to focus on are that research and data found students don’t learn as well in hot environments. The price of AC units and operating costs also went down, making the technology an easier burden for districts to bear.

According to the Sunshine Coast Daily, “A leading education and brain development academic, Associate Professor Michael Nagel, from the University of the Sunshine Coast, says there is solid science to prove the brain does not function well in hot weather.” Once districts came to the conclusion that students learn better when they aren’t hot, using AC in classrooms was no longer considered optional or a luxury.

According to Popular Mechanics, in 1931, “H.H. Schultz and J.Q. Sherman invent an individual room air conditioner that sits on a window ledge — a design that's been ubiquitous in apartment buildings ever since. The units are available for purchase a year later and are only enjoyed by the people least likely to work up a sweat — the wealthy. (The large cooling systems cost between $10,000 and $50,000. That's equivalent to $120,000 to $600,000 today.)”

Central air didn't emerge until the 1970s, but one thing was for certain — the cost of AC had been disrupted. 

What does AC have to do with classroom technology?

Many educators today still see technology devices in classrooms as optional or a luxury, similar to how AC used to be viewed. However, district leaders can read between the lines. Students today are the next-generation workforce, and if we truly want to prepare them to be college and career ready, technology can't be optional.

While more data is still needed, the use of technology in districts already shows great promise in increasing student achievement (Rand Corp., Informing Progress Report). Similarly, data shows students learn better when classrooms are kept cool with AC. Realizing that technology is part of a learning environment will lead to increased awareness that district plans must weave technology throughout and not separate it.

If districts continue to look at devices as something to prioritize once everything else has been budgeted, it will leave those students behind others that were fortunate to go to a district that included technology to prepare students for an ever-changing workforce. This is why the “tech plan” must go, and the resources needed to prepare our students must be embedded into the district plan as a whole.

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Susan Gentz
Susan is passionate about transforming education for every student and works on content for the center. She loves policy, running and biking, and is a proud Iowa native.