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What are IT leaders worried about? Assessment readiness and money

A CoSN survey reveals CTO concerns about privacy, budgets, and assessment readiness

leardership-cosnFor the past three years, CoSN—the Consortium for School Networking—has conducted the K-12 IT Leadership Survey seeking to identify major trends and challenges, and provide a picture of these leaders.

What are the key technology trends in education according to leadership in our school systems? What do the data tell us?

Assessment readiness is again the No. 1 priority for IT Leaders. The growing imperative about being assessment ready isn’t likely a surprise for those living in states adopting the Common Core. However, regardless of where you live, all states are increasingly moving their high-stakes assessments online. And, they are doing it quickly.

Yet less than 30 percent report they are fully prepared for online assessments. Sixty-two percent of respondents say they are either “fully prepared” or “almost ready.” But that still leaves nearly 40 percent of districts unprepared to implement online assessments.

Another growing concern is privacy. Last year, for the first time, we added privacy to the list of potential top concerns. It ranked dead last by our IT Leaders. Perhaps that didn’t fully explain the situation since privacy might be a concern, but not yet a “top tier” concern.

This year we asked the question in a different way; “Is privacy and security of student data more important, less important or the same as last year?”

Next page: How school budgets are holding up

An overwhelming 57 percent agreed it was a more important issue. That is a dramatic increase, yet not surprising given high-publicity security breaches and the increasing concerns expressed by parents and policymakers.

One concern that hasn’t changed is the lack of money. Seventy percent report a flat or declining budget for technology. Fifty-four percent of IT leaders indicate they don’t have enough money to “meet overall expectations of the school board/district leaders.” Budget hardships were also highlighted by the response to the question about the top three challenges IT Leaders face. For each of three years our survey has been conducted, budget constraints and lack of resources ranked as either the No. 1 or the No. 2 challenge.

When we ask IT leaders to identify their greatest challenges, the answers are not really about technology. That is not to say there are not technical or technological problems, but people, culture, and funding trump them. Beyond lack of money, the other top concerns were providing relevant professional development and breaking down silos within our school systems. These cultural and human aspects of digital learning are the hardest to solve.

The 2015 Survey also highlights interesting trends and demographics around our IT Leaders—or what CoSN generically calls our Chief Technology Officers (CTOs). While these leaders have extensive education technology experience and educational credentials, their compensation lags behind IT leaders in the private sector. Private sector CTOs in the bottom 10 percent of earnings range earn more than the average K-12 IT leader.

Even more disturbing, female K-12 IT leaders earn even less than their male counterparts. Women make up 65 percent of the lowest salary range for K-12 IT Leaders.

The Survey also shows that K-12 IT Leadership lacks diversity—88 percent are white. While that percentage somewhat aligns with the general population of whites in the United States (78 percent), it does not reflect the makeup of the K-12 student body, which is projected this year to have a majority non-white population.

What do these trends mean for superintendents and school boards?

  • The move away from paper tests is undeniable. However, the pace is too slow. Time to put pencils down.
  • Privacy concerns are here to stay.
  • Budgets need to align if digital learning is your priority—and in an era when budgets are flat, you need to reallocate your budget for sustainability.
  • Focus on building the human infrastructure around technology.
  • Finding the technology leadership that understands the education environment is key.
  • Changing education culture is the hardest part about technology.

The full results of the 2015 CoSN IT Leadership Survey can be viewed online.

Keith Krueger is CEO of the Consortium for School Networking.

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