Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Unintended Burden of the Texas School Technology Department

One of the key findings from the CoSN (Consortium of School Networking) K-12 IT Leadership Survey 2013 was that the "The 3 biggest challenges facing CTOs are budget and resource limitations, changing the culture of teaching, and breaking down district-wide barriers." 

Why do school technology directors and departments from across the nation feel like one of their biggest challenges is to "change the culture of teaching"?  How did that ever become a responsibility for a school technology department? 

Why? How? 

I can't speak to experiences from different states but I can speak to my experiences here in Texas. In 1988, the Texas State Board of Education developed and adopted the first Long Range Plan for Technology. Since then, school technology departments across Texas have shouldered the visionary burden for Texas schools. This is what I will talk about here and I will save the influence of the "educational industrial complex" and capitalism for another day.

As part of E-Rate and NCLB, school technology departments are required to submit a technology plan to be approved by a state education agency, here it is the Texas Education Agency.  In Texas, no other department has that requirement. This plan must include goals, strategies and objectives for teaching and learning and professional development, in addition to leadership, administration and infrastructure.

Teachers and campuses submit a self-assessment of their progress in achieving the goals and objectives of the state's LRPT with the measurements ranging from Early Tech to Target Tech, with Target Tech where the state would like schools to aspire to become. The areas measured are for Teaching and Learning, Educator Preparation, Leadership and Administration, and Infrastructure.

So...each year, technology departments are required to develop a plan that directly impacts instruction of millions of students across the state of Texas and then have it approved by the Texas Education Agency. On top of that, this plan is often developed in isolation from any district or campus improvement plan, because after all, it IS the technology plan.

So in Texas anyways, the bureaucratic process has misplaced too much responsibility of visionary leadership on the school technology department.  Imagine a corporate IT department being the only department required to submit the business plan for the whole company to be approved by shareholders.

For 20 years, the Texas Long Range Plan for Technology has acted as the vision for innovation in Texas public schools.  During those 20 years, Texas has been a leader in the integration of technology in education and I think we are still.  However, in 2008, a group of school superintendents came together and developed what has become known as the "Visioning" document.  It is actually a document entitled Creating a New Vision for Public Education in Texas

The "Visioning" document has replaced the Texas Long Range Plan for Technology as the vision for public schools in Texas.  While schools still are working with the LRPT, it is not having as much influence on the vision of instruction as it once did. 

School technology departments are seeing a shift in where the vision is coming from and now, more than ever, school superintendents and curriculum departments are defining what innovative instruction looks like and the tools conversation is changing to support it.  

For now, unfortunately, whenever you speak of changing the "culture" or "21st century skills" it is often still associated with a technology initiative.

For example, in our district we have developed a strategic plan that we call the Future Ready Project.  We have six goals in our plan that deal with teaching and learning, educator preparation, 21st century parents, leadership, digital tools, and evaluation.  Digital tools are only one piece of the overall plan, but the Future Ready Project is still often referred to as a technology initiative.  

On top of all the very rapid changes in technology that seem to happen faster and faster each year, there is a culture change in Texas.  Right now it is bumpy.  There are people that are on board and some that are not.  Many just want to go back to the old ways and many want to move forward.  Some want to pull back on the reigns and some want to give a little kick with the spurs to speed it up.  

What I have learned after being in the Texas educational technology field for over 20 years is that there ain't no backing up and folks, that ain't your choice and it ain't mine.

I'm looking forward to some feedback and some debate on this post.  Please give comments on things I have wrong or may have missed.

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