by Debbie Karcher
In my last article I discussed the argument for uniformity in 1:1 deployment in districts with high mobility rates and discussed the benefits. However, there are many reasons that district have disparate systems. They include staged implementations or refreshes over many years leaving schools with old or outdated devices, grant driven programs, changes in leadership, technology changes, and legislative initiatives. Although not intentional, the causes mentioned, have resulted in disparate and inequitable use of technology and digital instructional materials that must be supported.
Since we cannot stop (nor do we want to) accepting grants, moving forward with technology, and computer refreshes this problem is not going away. Districts will continue to add to the technical disparities and will have to face inequity, support, and professional development challenges unless they develop strategies to mitigate the disruption when new technology is introduced. This article discusses methods to maintain the integrity of a 1:1 initiative when implementing devices and curriculum different than the 1:1 model, continuing measuring programs’ successes, and minimizing the support needed.
Grants are one of the more frequent disrupters of a 1:1 initiative. Because high mobility districts apply and win grants, the challenge becomes integrating these programs into the district while maintaining the uniformity and transparency of the 1:1 initiative. Grants often require strict performance or success measurements. Those in education know that there is not one indicator to measure success; because there are too many variables. There have been many 1:1 device deployments in schools, starting in 2002 with the Maine initiative that deployed Apple laptop computers to every 7th and 8th grader. Now the effectiveness of this initiative and others are being questioned and districts are expected to provide measurable results. It has been difficult to measure the impact that technology has had on student achievement. When new programs are added such as coding, digital design, or robotics or grants that require specialized equipment and curriculum it too can begin to impact the district’s ability to measure and support all the initiatives. Districts do and should try to win as many grants that can be managed and allow them to offer programs that make them competitive and modern. But their strategy should include a plan to define and measure success of all new and existing programs, minimize the disruption to other programs and take into consideration the district’s high mobility or high stability rates. Stability is the number of students who stay in one school over one year.
The problem with measuring effectiveness is that the technology in any district, coupled with the curriculum and teacher professional development, is so varied, it cannot be fairly or adequately measured. Because of this a simpler definition of success may be needed. The previous article discussed the deployment of devices to every 7th grade Civic student in Miami Dade County Public Schools. At the time, it was not known if the movement to all digital curriculum would impact the state assessment results. It will never be known for sure, because of the variables associated with this implementation such as teacher and student computer literacy levels, device and curriculum usage, the testing environment, to name a few. However, the scores did go up slightly, and the district measured success by the fact that it did not hurt the students’ scores. This is not scientific but because the same program and assessments were offered to all students taking Civics in Miami-Dade the district could make that statement. Measuring success was easier because uniformity and equity were a priority. There are additional factors to consider such as student and teacher attendance, interim assessment results, and student and teacher pre and post implementation surveys that could make the argument stronger.
When new programs are added there are two options for minimizing disruption. The first is to make sure that the grant is large enough to go across every school or the district can augment the grant with additional dollars to reach the same outcome. Although, slightly diluted, the integrity and underlying principles of equity and uniformity will be maintained in the district. The second option is to use the stability rate, to implement the program in schools where the mobility is lower than the district’s average rate. Since the homeless and disadvantaged students, usually make up the schools that have high mobility rates, there will be some inequity. But, if the program is successful, and the demand for the program is high, then the district can decide to implement the curriculum in every school.
These two options provide, on a smaller scale, the benefits of a 1:1 strategy when offered to a subset of the same students, throughout the district, or to schools who have a high stability rate. By targeting and creating a program within a program, interruption to instruction would be minimized when students enter or leave the class, success could be measured, and professional development and support could be targeted. This will result in three benefits; the first is keeping the integrity of the 1:1 implementation model; the second is the ability to measure success for all programs implemented as required; the third and most important is continuing to provide an equitable technology landscape for all students.