Maryland-based educational technology company AWS Inc. (formerly Automated Weather Source) has teamed up with the state Department of Education and the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education (MBRT) to provide parents and educators with report cards on the progress that each of the state’s schools has made in using technology.

AWS has published the school-by-school reports on its web site—in part, to make the information available to parents, but also to challenge the state’s schools to improve. At least 10 other states have approached AWS with the goal of establishing similar online inventories, according to the company’s president, Bob Marshall.

The online technology inventory is a result of efforts by MBRT’s Committee on Technology in Education—which Marshall chaired—and the 1999 Maryland Plan for Technology in Education, which set forth goals and strategies for improving the technological capabilities of the state’s schools.

“There are a number of benefits to putting the results online,” Marshall said. “First, the technology inventories provide the committee with detailed data so that we can monitor the progress of the state’s technology plan. At the same time, it’s an opportunity for schools to be able to look at their own progress.”

The Maryland Department of Education has produced assessments of its schools’ technology resources each year since 1997. The inventory was conducted electronically for the first time last year, allowing for a more timely review and release of the data.

“Bob’s company has a tremendous amount of technological experience, so he offered to develop the inventory online in 1999. It was wonderful, because it allowed us to have almost immediate data for every school in the state. Now, we can spend this year doing an in-depth analysis of the data,” said MBRT’s executive director, June Streckfus.

Once the new technology inventory system was implemented, AWS published the preliminary results online in a report titled “Where We Stand in 2000.”

According to MBRT, Maryland’s statewide technology inventories have measured progress toward specified targets in key areas, such as access to computer equipment and networks, availability of technical support, and levels of teacher knowledge and skills.

Streckfus believes that making the data available to parents online has spurred stakeholders and education officials to take an active interest in the level of technology that Maryland students have at their disposal.

“For example,” she said, “as Dr. Iris Metts [superintendent of Prince George’s County Schools] can tell you, when middle school parents realized their kids did not have anywhere near enough technology resources, there was a tremendous pressure to bring those resources to bear.

“This school-to-school information really unmasked the data,” she added. “Even the state legislature voted this year to significantly increase technology spending in Maryland. It has really opened some eyes.”

MBRT members also believe that publishing an online technology index of every school in the state holds each school accountable for the technology and services it provides to its students.

“When we started this [project], there were counties in Maryland that were calling themselves ‘technology meccas,’ and some of them had the [poorest] student-to-computer ratios in the state. The technology inventories really blew their cover,” Streckfus said.

Even a district that lags behind in technology has shown its support for the index.

Baltimore City Schools has one of the lowest-rated systems in the state, with eight students for every computer (below the state and national average, both 6 students per machine) and just 21 percent of classrooms connected to the internet.

Baltimore’s director of technology, Mike Pitroff, thinks the online inventories are a great idea. “The information that has been captured has been very beneficial in terms of helping us identify, school by school, exactly where we are in … bringing our technology resources up to speed,” he said. “Baltimore is trying to become a technology magnet for industry, and this may help the community recognize that Baltimore City Schools need [its] assistance to do that.”

Maryland Business Roundtable for Education

http://www.mbrt.org

AWS Inc.

http://www.aws.com

Maryland Department of Education’s Technology Inventory

http://msde.aws.com/default.asp