Jim Idol of Knox County Schools anticipates using stimulus funds to help teachers bring new technologies into the classroom.

Stimulus Funding Seeks to Support Teachers' Tech Curriculums

School districts view the nearly $1 billion of stimulus money targeted for technology projects as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

School districts view the nearly $1 billion of stimulus money targeted for technology projects as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The debate in Washington around the stimulus package is highly political, and discussions on K–12 school funding are arcane even to policy wonks, but the money is finally making its way down to local school districts – and that's what everyone in the K–12 world is counting on.

School districts view the nearly $1 billion of stimulus money targeted for technology projects as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The debate in Washington around the stimulus package is highly political, and discussions on K–12 school funding are arcane even to policy wonks, but the money is finally making its way down to local school districts – and that's what everyone in the K–12 world is counting on.

“The idea is to provide teachers with professional development opportunities that will familiarize them with the research base, background and expertise to use technology devices and software to support their curriculum effectively,” says Jim Idol, supervisor of instructional technology for Knox County Schools in Tennessee.

“We want to see our professional educators infuse resources such as digital cameras, video capture equipment and Web 2.0 applications into their classroom curriculum in authentic and productive ways,” he says.  “Further, we want our staff prepared to guide our students as they use these technologies to develop their own products that support their academic learning and achievement.”

Idol says the district's main goal is to improve learning. “By bringing these technologies into the classroom in a more productive manner, we hope to afford teachers and students a modern set of tools to accomplish this goal,” says Idol, who adds that teachers and students will also receive training on the effective use of Internet resources.

When the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) was signed into law last February, the government allocated in excess of $100 billion for education funding. Of that stimulus money, $650 million was specifically targeted for technology projects under Title II-D of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program.

School districts receive Title II-D technology funds every year under the Enhancing Education Through Technology program. Schools use EETT funds primarily for teacher development and to enhance learning in the classroom. The federal government funded EETT at $279 million this year, so combined with ARRA stimulus funds, the government made $929 million available to school districts on July 1 for technology projects.

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Idol says his district was set to receive nearly $475,000 in EETT funds, $337,655 of which were ARRA stimulus funds.

“We're looking at this as a one-time infusion, so our goal is to build instruction capacity that we will retain even when the funding is gone,” says Idol. “We will expand some programs we already have in place, mostly adding some more training, software licenses, and a few technology coaches.”

The district serves 55,000 students, so launching a new project is not possible.

“What we spend the money on must be ongoing, and it must be sustainable,” Idol concludes.

Other Opportunities

Schools will also receive stimulus money under Title I-A for low-income school districts; the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which funds special-education programs at all schools nationwide; and the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF), which initially will be used to prevent teacher layoffs in states hard-hit by the downturn, such as California.

Although most IT managers expect to run technology programs stemming from Title I-A, IDEA and the SFSF, as of the late summer, many school technology officials could only count on the Title II-D/EETT funds. But that will change in the months ahead.

“I think we have a great opportunity for technology,” says Jennifer House, president of RedRock Reports, which tracks technology projects in K–12 school districts.

“The biggest challenge IT managers will have is deciding which bucket of money to use,” she says, adding that technology money will eventually be available for the Title I-A, IDEA and SFSF programs, but IT managers will have to work more collaboratively with other school departments than they have in the past.

Ted Brodheim, CIO of the New York City Department of Education, says his real challenge is balancing the need to put new equipment into the hands of teachers and students with the need to build out the district's technology infrastructure.

“It's important to us not to have a short-term focus,” says Brodheim. “While the Title II-D money will help us quickly get technology into the hands of teachers and students, the challenge is to balance the spending so we also build an infrastructure that will propel classrooms for the next 10 years.”

Brodheim says there are three elements to building out the district's technology infrastructure that he'll keep in mind as stimulus funds become available:

  • Ensuring the data platform is consistent. Brodheim will look to deploy identity management technology that will also offer security through a single sign-on capability.
  • Adopting a portal. A districtwide portal, built and maintained by central IT, will let various departments focus on developing shareable applications and knowledge databases.
  • Aggregating content to tap institutional knowledge. Brodheim also wants teachers and students to exchange information more efficiently. “When teachers or students come up with best practices on a specific topic, we need to find ways to share that information so we are not reinventing the wheel every time.”

Ted Brodheim, CIO of the New York City Department of Education, wants to use the stimulus funds to propel learning for the next 10 years.

Peter Ross

Setting Priorities

Most districts are undergoing their own version of the planning process that Brodheim describes. In Milwaukee, Jim Davis, technology director for Milwaukee Public Schools, says the school superintendent held public hearings in the spring to obtain ideas from parents on how to spend the stimulus money.

Davis says Milwaukee receives roughly $1 million in Title II-D money annually and expects to have an additional $2 million available before the federal spending deadline of Sept. 30, 2011. With that kind of money on the table, plus the potential of more ARRA funds around Title I-A, IDEA and SFSF, Davis says officials in Milwaukee slowed their planning process.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we want to get it right,” he says.

Joe Makley, technology coordinator for Portland Public Schools in Maine, says his district plans to spend its Title II-D money on building up its wireless infrastructure and developing a one-to-one notebook computer program.

“We're looking at trying to manage the inevitable flood of wireless equipment that students bring to the school every day,” he says. “With 22 buildings to cover, building up the wireless infrastructure is a huge priority, especially at the high school.”

Slow, but Steady

Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), lauds the strategic tack taken by Portland and New York City and thinks IT officials should look at the big picture. He's been advising districts to take a step back and carefully analyze the best ways to deliver digital content.

“Technology is a huge user of energy. We should be thinking about using the stimulus money to lower our carbon footprint using proven technologies like server virtualization, which makes more efficient use of servers and saves money,” he says, adding that the typical server runs at 10 percent of capacity, and virtualization does a better job of lowering the carbon footprint.

“While the specific technologies are important,” Krueger says, “in the end, the success of the stimulus projects will be less about technology and more about school districts working more collaboratively.”

Making Those Dollars Stretch

Here are some best practices that IT managers can use to get the most out of their school's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding:

  1. Reach across states, schools and districts: Many states and regions have formed consortiums to set up knowledge portals, and some even apply for Title II-D grants as a group.
  2. Think systemically: Look toward the future in terms of planning the infrastructure you'll need for the next 10 years.
  3. Keep in mind the inevitable drop-off in funding and plan accordingly: Projects should be scalable and sustainable.
  4. Share information with the administration: Detail how technology provides viable options for tapping funding that must be spent quickly, while creating long-term impact for teachers and students.
  5. Offer examples: Illustrate how technology helps other programs meet their goals for teachers and students.

Source: State Educational Technology Directors Association

Great Potential: Title I-A

By reviewing some of the potential uses of the $10 billion in Recovery Act Title I-A money as outlined by the government, IT teams can get a glimpse of the technology projects that may lie ahead:

  • Provide new opportunities for Title I schoolwide programs for secondary school students to use high-quality online courseware as supplemental learning materials for meeting mathematics and science requirements.
  • Use data management systems to drive continuous improvement efforts focused on improving achievement in Title I schools.
  • Offer professional development to teachers in Title I targeted assistance programs on the use of data to inform and improve instruction for Title I students.

Source: U.S. Department of Education

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<p>David Luttrell</p>
Aug 31 2009

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