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10 ways to pursue digital equity with collaborative leadership

School leaders can collaborate and work together toward digital equity for students

digital-equityDespite all of the impact of technology in our schools, there is an unfortunate reality: not all students have the same access to digital technologies – especially at home. We have become a nation with access and a nation without access to the internet.

According to a 2012 Pew Research Internet Project study, only 30 percent of low-income households have smartphones and less than one-half of low-income households have broadband at home. These numbers are more pronounced from the scope of educational achievement. Approximately one-third of adults who do not possess a high school diploma have broadband at home, compared to nearly 90 percent of those people who have a college degree or higher.

Our society is rapidly becoming a “Tale of Two Cities.” Technology is simply that significant–either you have access and are part of the ever-changing and growing community, or you are part of an underclass.

(Next page: 10 steps to digital equity)

Yet, access is not the answer; it is only part of it. Addressing the digital equity challenge in our schools is not about just giving students access to digital tools–it is also about using those tools to provide an equal opportunity for educational achievement. This requires ensuring all students have access to the tools and systems they need in their present and adult lives, as well as leveraging those tools to help students learn and succeed.

Nearly 50 years ago, President Lyndon Johnson enacted the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) with the noble intention of helping millions of children from poor families “overcome their greatest barrier to progress: poverty.” Title I of the ESEA has been the conduit for thousands of districts to direct critical funds toward those students who need them the most. Now, using and understanding technology is just as much part of the equation to ensure that all children have access to an effective education.

Solving the digital equity problem today requires a new partnership between those administrators responsible for Title I, and those in charge of technology. CoSN’s 2014 IT Leadership survey found that one of the top three challenges facing chief technology officers is breaking down silos, and this problem is at the heart of that challenge.

These silos are caused by several factors – one being the structure of the funds. Many programs have so many rules and requirements that they almost become isolated; but there is much more: it is how we think about each individual program and how we have created barriers to form integration. These are solvable problems.

To change this, each of us must adopt new roles. When done right, Title I directors and district technology leaders can play a large, direct role in overcoming this hurdle and ensuring equity in this digital era.

To help you address the big questions, CoSN and the National Title I Association developed a free discussion guide with a variety of resources, best practices, and more.

Here are 10 simple practices to strengthen collaboration between Title I directors and district technology leaders and make a direct impact on students:

  1. Start a conversation on what you both think equity means today, given our increasingly digital world.
  2. Not all technology folks understand how Title I works. Sponsor a workshop for the technology office to learn about Title I.
  3. Likewise, not all Title I folks know about what is happening in educational technology. The technology office can sponsor a hands-on workshop.
  4. Go on a joint field trip to see some great teachers using technology in powerful ways to personalize and deepen instruction.
  5. Go to lunch with each other (or dinner or golfing) … or just talk, and do it regularly.
  6. No one should start the conversation with: “Since Title I has all the money…”
  7. Seek out cross-team connections between Title I and technology departments.
  8. Meet jointly with school building principals and their leadership teams. Because Title I programs are primarily implemented at the school level, it’s important that principals have the ear of both the Title I office and the technology department.
  9. Meet with your superintendent and his/her leadership team to set a vision for digital equity and then explore how to finance it.
  10. Start today. Our kids can’t wait.

Major digital equity technology initiatives are complex and require real leadership, collaboration, and the ability to lead change by bridging the divide between our respective silos. In making these changes, we will make a difference in expanding the horizons of those who are being left behind.

Keith Krueger is the CEO of CoSN (Consortium for School Networking). Learn more about CoSN’s digital equity efforts at:

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