Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Now What? the Stimulus Bill Has Put School Districts in an Unfamiliar Quandary: How to Spend a Surplus of Ed Tech Money. A Broad Section of Educators Offer Their Views on Where a Big Surge of Technology Funds Would Do the Most Good

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Now What? the Stimulus Bill Has Put School Districts in an Unfamiliar Quandary: How to Spend a Surplus of Ed Tech Money. A Broad Section of Educators Offer Their Views on Where a Big Surge of Technology Funds Would Do the Most Good

Article excerpt

Which is the more challenging scenario for an IT administrator: having a lot of money or having very little? Hold that answer and consider: One presents larger opportunities, but the greater your investments, the greater the potential for blunders. The other offers no room for error, but a chance to demonstrate imagination and resourcefulness. Over the following 13 pages, we show you how K-12 technology leaders are making the most out of both circumstances.

WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITH $650 MILLION? Better yet, what should you do with $650 million?

No, this is no game show. It's a real-life challenge posed to school districts nationwide in the year since President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. The bill dedicates more than $90 billion to education, with $650 million allocated specifically for technology. Since then, the president has called on district and state leaders to leverage ARRA grant money to ensure that America's students are taught in technologically rich 21st century classrooms. US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said that the money should fund "investment in innovation." And the US Department of Education has recommended that it go to "improve student academic achievement through the use of technology in schools."

The invitation to take from such an abundant pot of money is unprecedented; in fact, the ARRA funds represent the biggest K-12 ed tech budget bump in US history. But they also create a be-careful-what-you-wish-for scenario. It's no easy task to spend $650 million: More invested means more at stake, and more occasions to make a bad decision. When so many parts of the educational system could be upgraded by technology, an unsuccessful purchase would squander an opportunity that isn't likely to circle back again.

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With many districts still tidying up their ARRA applications, we got to wondering just what would be the most constructive way to use a sudden windfall of ed tech funds, unbound by the idiosyncracies of grant requirements. We put the question to a host of K-12 IT leaders: If you had a one-shot chance to spend a big sum of technology money, where would you begin? Here are their shopping lists.

More Bandwidth

Ask Elizabeth Knittle, technology integration specialist at the Barnstable Public School District in Hyannis, MA, what would be her first target, and she doesn't hesitate.

"Bandwidth is definitely No. 1," Knittle says. "With the advent of Web 2.0, we're downloading content, creating content, and streaming video--and demand for network capacity just keeps growing. In the old days the teachers would be frustrated because the computers didn't work, or they ran too slowly, or needed troubleshooting. Now, after you point them to great YouTube videos, interesting Discovery Education Streaming clips, or cool virtual worlds, they're frustrated because the network is too slow. The good news is, they're all doing it; the bad news is, they're all doing it."

Any school aspiring to deliver 21st century classrooms must first provide adequate bandwidth, Knittle says, not to mention the wiring and switches to handle all the traffic. She points to her own district as an example.

"When the schools were first built they put in internet access, with the goal of getting one connected computer into the classroom," she says. "And that's still basically our network infrastructure. We have 3,000 computers trying to run on a system that was set up for a few hundred." High-speed networking technology is a priority at Westerly Public Schools in Rhode Island, says the district's director of technology, Mark Lamson. Lamson would send a surge of funds in the direction of any cost-effective technology that boosts the local network bandwidth. Westerly is currently considering a new system from Proxim Wireless.

"Virtually all the other educational technologies you use nowadays--laptops, web-based content, collaboration systems, etc. …

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