Approximately 86 percent of United States public school systems have fewer than 5,000 students. These school systems are at a significant disadvantage in accumulating the funds to purchase and support high-quality computers and software. They also face a huge challenge in developing the critical mass that is necessary to attract superior tech-support staff and educators with technology skills. Furthermore, they are not especially attractive to technology vendors, because most vendors find that sales to larger urban school systems tend to produce more revenue and profits.

Solving this problem requires innovative thinking and new structures. First, smaller school systems must make technology a priority. This starts by devising standards that help define progress toward the goal of implementing technology. A scorecard will guide the leaders of these systems toward goals, such as specific levels of training for teachers, lower student-to-computer ratios, or on-time upgrades and maintenance of networks.

Second, intermediate units (IUs) must play a more prominent role. IUs are statewide coalitions or cooperatives that perform a specific function for smaller school districts. Today, many IUs provide technology purchasing and support services. However, they can do a much better job, both in aggregating purchases so that districts can get discounts and in hiring technology experts who can service all the school systems that are in a single IU.

Third, states can be more proactive on behalf of their smaller school systems. State education officials can fund more IUs and supply existing IUs with more support. States can also place more responsibility with IUs to promote technology integration in schools. States may also require that vendors doing business within the state offer the same financial terms and support services to small and large school systems.