Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho shares his district’s experiences and priorities when it comes to supporting school technology
And while no time will ever be the perfect time to make the digital transition, any time is the right time, said Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of the Miami-Dade Public Schools, a 2011 eSN Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards winner, and 2014 American Association of School Administrators Superintendent of the Year.
The need for technology-rich school environments that mimic the environments in which today’s students will one day work and compete becomes evident “when we acknowledge the fact that, from zip code to zip code…there are significant gaps. There are literally and figuratively digital deserts in our communities,” said Carvalho, speaking during Discovery Education’s second annual Future@Now  event on Feb. 26.
Before school leaders address how they’re going to enable a digital conversion, though, it’s much more important to define why they’re going to do so.
(Next page: How to effectively launch a digital technology conversion)
Carvalho outlined two main reasons ‘why’:
- Moral imperative: Every student deserves to live and learn with technology and to have access to opportunities made possible through technology.
- Economic impact: The U.S. economy, if it is expected to survive and thrive, depends on skilled, educated workers who are able to compete and keep up with students and workers in other countries.
The digital conversion—or, as Carvalho terms it, the digital convergence–is important because of opportunity gaps, he said. “Opportunity gaps invariably lead to achievement gaps, and unmitigated gaps often become generational gaps.”
Carvalho outlined what he calls the ABCs of digital convergence.
A: Application and digital content
Focus on defining standards, rigor, and relevance, he said.
Determine how to align what happens in classrooms with critical college and career skills students should be able to demonstrate. Lead with content that is personalizable and adaptive.
B: Broadband and bandwidth
Miami-Dade planned to build traffic capacity to support all students, teachers, administrators, and district staff. District leaders demanded no fewer than 3 gigabytes of capacity, expandable to 10 gigabytes within 3 years. And at 3 gigabytes, every single student and teacher could have two to three devices on the network at the same time and only consume 5 percent of the network capacity, Carvalho said.
“Create the highway that will support the traffic of content and users,” he advised.
“If you cannot guarantee ubiquitous, universal high-speed broadband signal for every single square foot of space in your district, you are not going to bring about the digital convergence you hoped for,” he said.
Referencing President Obama’s ConnectED initiative, Carvalho said the district will, on Feb. 28, have successfully deployed wireless to every part of the district–400 schools and 47 million square feet of space.
Building wireless capacity “was an indispensable step in our plan,” he said.
This comes only after A, B, and C, Carvalho emphasized. “It is only after the application and content, broadband, and connectivity that we even dare to talk about a device,” he said.
The district first decided that it needed to adopt a system that adapts to all devices, which allows for a combination of district-provided devices and a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy.
Knowing the district would never have enough money to purchase a device for every child right away, it first turned to parents and students to see what personal devices students might bring to their classrooms.
By 2015, the district will provide devices such as laptops or tablets for K-12 students who might not be able to afford a device otherwise. The initiative will be combined with the district’s BYOD policy, and surveys from the end of the 2012-2013 school year indicated that roughly 25 percent of district students have their own laptop or tablet.
At some point, district leaders should evaluate practices and strategies. Miami-Dade used its iPrep Academy  as a barometer for technology initiative success. iPrep Academy is a magnet school incorporating “innovate teaching strategies into a technology-rich environment,” and it encourages unique student learning models.
“There is not pushing out of information, there is pulling in of knowledge on the part of the students,” Carvalho said of iPrep’s learning environment.
District leaders monitored, examined, and studied the impact of flipped learning and digital content in hybrid environments in iPrep Academy to inform the massive district convergence that took place in Miami-Dade, Carvalho said.
These practices informed the massive district convergence, he said.
There is not a single funding source for transformation of this magnitude, Carvalho said.
“We strategically assembled multiple funding sources, forced them to converge on one single strategic goal,” he said.
The district used eRate funds for connectivity and a Bank of America short-term loan for devices. It also used a recurring state funding stream to free textbook allocation for technology-based materials and digital content.
“Our moral imperative is to accelerate the digital convergence for all students,” Carvalho said. “There is no opportunity equity without access to high-quality digital content. If it can be done in Miami in the middle of the recession, there is no reason why it cannot be done everywhere else in America, right now.”