The pace of technological change is forcing nearly everyone in our society to think differently. School board and superintendent teams must be leaders for change, harnessing the positive forces of technology to strengthen teaching, learning, and school governance.
School leaders should help the public understand that schools are preparing children for careers and work in the Information Age, an era driven by fast-paced, rapidly evolving, multifaceted technologies. High student achievement and success for every child depends upon competency in using a variety of technologies for working and everyday living in tomorrow’s world.
Technological advances in education are not new; witness the introduction of chalkboards, No. 2 pencils, fountain and ballpoint pens, mimeograph machines, telephones, public address systems, overhead projectors, motion picture projectors, radio, television, tape and video recorders, photocopy machines, and so on. What is new are the vast information, data, and manipulative systems inherent in today’s high-speed computers and the rapidity of change and advancements in these systems.
Most schools have installed computers (the latest figures from Market Data Retrieval show the ratio of students to computers has fallen below 5 to 1). Most schools are wired and about 98 percent have internet access; more than half have a home page on the web, and about 70 percent of teachers claim regular use of computers. eLearning tools and the internet are opening windows to the world for most pupils.
Now that this plateau has been reached, school boards and superintendents need to think differently about how to maximize the positive impacts of these technologies on teachers, pupils, parents, and school governance.
Teachers are and always will be the key to a successful education system, one that collaborates closely with parents for high pupil achievement. The computer really frees teachers to become instructional designers and true leaders of learning. Every “teaching station” should be fully equipped with telephone, computer, network and internet access, wide-screen television, satellite, laser disc, and CD-ROM technologies in a fully coordinated voice-video-data system.
The importance of the teaching station should be self-evident: to help teachers “work smarter” by maintaining records and analyses of pupil work; preparing for lessons and classes; working with colleagues on curricula compendia (longitudinal scope and sequence plans), as well as on multilevel instructional units and daily lesson plans; communicating with other teachers, both within the district and in other districts; and enabling them to participate in a variety of in-service educational programs, including online training.
Other technologies, such as videoconferencing, also can be of immense help in these in-service education programs. In addition, teachers should be able to communicate via eMail with individual pupils, a group of pupils, the entire class, and with parents (both individually and collectively).
Pupils typically have access to computers in their classrooms (usually from two to six pupil workstations), the school’s computer labs and library, andfor manyat home. Some schools provide a laptop computer for all students, a trend likely to intensify with either wireless or wired systems. In the very near future, students will use laptops as commonly as today’s notebooks and book bags are used.
Pupils should be able to access the curriculum to view the broader perspective of their course of study, as well as the detailed lesson plans and resource materials used by the teacherincluding citations and sources in a wide variety of databases. Pupil evaluation should be demystifiedwith “gotchas” removedand tied, instead, to the end-line skills, knowledge, and processes that the pupil needs to know, as outlined in the curriculum compendia. Pupils should also be able to access sample questions in their preparation and review for exams.
Pupils should be able to use computers to communicate, from home or school, with the teacher and other pupils individually or in project work teamsjust as their parents and others in the adult workforce do every day. Pupil reports and projects, both individual and work group, should be presented in multimedia modes: print, PowerPoint, video, and the like. Parents must play a key role as the primary teachers of their children, beginning in the preschool years.
High-quality, high-performance schools invariably include a substantial involvement by parents in the overall life of the school and the individual educational programs of their children. The computer can add immense depth to the parental partnership of those already involved and extend it to less-involved parents as the computer becomes even more commonplace in American homes. Parents and teachers can communicate electronically for a wide variety of purposes: simple communication; setting appointments for parent-teacher conferences; and enabling parents to access the curriculum scope and sequence, unit and course objectives, homework assignments, test schedules and test preparation, progress reports, and the like.
One of the problems in parent-teacher communication is the unavailability of the teacher during most of the school day. With eMail, the parent can leave a message and the teacher can respond when not directly working with pupils or on other professional tasks.
School governance teams
School board and superintendent governance teams should think differently about technology by using its vast potential to communicate with one another and with the public. In addition to using traditional print media, public television systems, and public meetings or forums (using PowerPoint and multimedia presentations), the computer offers unparalleled opportunities for public (not just parent!) engagement with the schools.
First, the use of web sites can provide a continuous flow of school information to the public: school mission and goals; curriculum outlines; teaching-learning information (staff initiatives, pupil test scores); statistical data (pupils, pupil achievement and accomplishments, staff credentials and accomplishments); schedules and events (sports, music, drama, assemblies, special programs); budget and financial data; program and financial needs; long-range plans (programs, facilities, finances); and the like. Second, the computer can be used to invite public interaction with the schools, such as a question-and-answer format. Third, the use of key internet sites can facilitate communication with other districts and board-superintendent governance teams. Finally, electronic connection among members of the board-superintendent governance team is an immense facilitator that leads to better-informed and more effective school governance.
Funds for technology
A final word on thinking differently about technology. It is imperative that school board-superintendent governance teams and the community’s appropriation authority think differently about resource allocation for the school’s technology systems. Many districts have just come through a period of purchasing, wiring, and connecting computers. The pace of development in technological hardware and software demands continual upgrading and replacement of obsolete or near-obsolete equipment and materials with state-of-the-art components. What was thought of as a one-time major equipment capital outlay of budget monies (often to “catch up”) needs to be rethought of as an ongoing, annual major expenditure item.
School board-superintendent governance teams need to think very differently about personnel resource allocation for technology support staff. All too often, a school system hires a “director of technology” and assumes that the matter is taken care of. In reality, an entire technology staff is needed. Most school districts have network systems that support a variety of hardware and software in a multiplatform mode. The systems are complex and need constant attention. Teachers need to be free to teach, to work with pupils, and to use the technologiesnot to be frustrated by systems that are down.
Corporate standards call for one technological support person for every 50 PCs. Applied to schools, this could mean a technological support staff of 10 people for a 500-pupil school! Obviously, the 500 pupils are not working all the time on the computer, so that level of staffing is not necessary. However, every school should have a network administrator and one (or more) technology integration specialists (depending on the size of the school and the extent of its technology use) who can provide the necessary technical assistance and backup support to the teachers. The most advanced technological system will not have a significant impact on the teaching and learning process unless there is a full cadre of technical support staff to ensure its proper functioning and integration into the curricula delivery system.
In conclusion, forward-looking school board-superintendent governance teams need to think differently about technology by viewing it as a powerful, integrated instructional tool and information resource for significantly raising pupil achievement. School district governance teams must commit major annual budget allocations for continually upgrading equipment, software, staff training, and a substantially increased staffing pattern for technological support staff.
Both Dr. Zimmerman and Dr. Goodman, currently staff associates with the New England School Development Council, are former superintendents who have conducted recent research on school board-superintendent governance teams.