Friday, October 22, 2010

A Level Playing Field...



When I hear educators talk about access and equity my mind immediately thinks of Internet access. Surprisingly there are still places in this country where schools are not connected to a high speed broadband connection (and are relying on dial-up still) or where they have no access at all. ( I even wrote about that this year.)

I was thinking about access and equity just the other day. I am no longer in a school (I work at the district level.) However, I am in schools a lot so I get to see lots of different situations. I also have had the chance to visit lots of schools around the country this year and hear stories of schools so I have some comparisons.

I think our district does a great job making sure there is equal access. Now, not every school is the same. And I challenge everyone to show me a district as large as mine (90 schools, 52,000 students) where every classroom has the same access, or even the schools have the same technologies. Many of our schools are Title I, meaning they have high populations of free or reduced lunch students so they get federal dollars. Many of these schools (including the one from where I came) use this extra money for technology. So there are schools where there are more state of the art and up to date technologies in the building and the building down the road might, might have a computer lab. But, for the most part things are on the right track here.

Recently I was in a school preparing to talk to some English Department chairs about technology integration and use of technology by their teachers. We were in a computer lab that seemed like it was used, a lot, which I like to see. However, many of the machines has signs on them that said "Out of Order" or "Broken" with a sad face. We were a small group, about 14 of us, but in a lab of 20 machines maybe 10 were working.

One of the English teachers and I got to talking and she mentioned that she faced the same situation in her building. There were plenty of computer labs and mobile carts. However, much of the time very few of the machines were actually working, or if they were, the machines are so old, many of the web-based programs they want to use, they cannot.

Both these schools have more than one technology person on staff. One school has 2, the other 3. But then I started to wonder. Many times we invest so much in "things." 1:1 programs are great. I am all for putting technology directly in the hands of students. But would investing in mobile carts and a staff member be a better option. (Now, please, understand, I am not in anyway saying I dislike 1:1. I love it.) That is a situational decision.

My point is people. Are schools and districts taking a hard look at people instead of "things?" People are expensive, yes, but, their RTI (Return On Investment) is great than the technology, right?

This English teacher also said something interesting to me. She mentioned she has lots of new teachers working with her, fresh out of college. They came from programs where the use of technology was second nature to them. They had access to everything they wanted in their program. But now that they are out in the "real world" there isn't enough clickers to go around or slates, or document cameras. So they are struggling.

At first, what a wonderful problem to have. Teachers who have integrated technology so much that it is second nature to them. But is it a bad problem to have as well. Access and equity, as I have mentioned are issues. Is their dependence and reliance on technology so much it is an actual hindrance to their teaching?

I have been struggling with these two issues (access to people and over reliance on technology) for a couple days now. What do you think? Do districts and schools place too much importance on "things" rather than people? What about over reliance on technology? Is that even possible? Or maybe the issues are both too big for one post...

Leave me some comments below.

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