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The Economy – A Stimulus For Change In Education

August 31, 2011 - 1 Comment

 “The economic challenges that began in 2007 continue to have a lasting effect on our society, and the education sector has been one of the hardest hit. In total, 85 percent of the country’s 14,000 school districts have been forced to slash their operating expenses.” (Innovation in Tough Times) This contraction has left many educators in a difficult position. Yes- there have been many negative outcomes that have resulted because of the downturn, but there is a silver lining.

Education has changed little to none in the past 150 years.  I am a member of the millennial generation, and I have been a participant of the public education system for almost 14 years. Overall, I have had a decent experience. However, the experience that I had was nearly identical to the one that my parents had over two decades ago. For me, almost every school day was indistinguishable. Monday through Friday I’d reluctantly wake up at the unearthly hour of 7 AM, rush to school, sit through six hours of lecture, go to practice, come home and unload my 30 pound backpack stuffed with outdated textbooks, then read and prepare for yet another day of school that awaited me the next morning. Frankly, this monogamous chain of events caused me to disengage with the learning process.

Yet in some ways the recent economic instability has forced the evolution of school districts. Schools no longer have the funding to teach the way they have always taught and not innovating is no longer an option for many districts. The decrease in budgets is making the choice for them; they are being forced to evolve. Educators must find new and innovative ways to increase test scores, attendance rates and student motivation levels with a fraction of the budget. For many districts, technology has been the instrument for not only reducing costs, but also updating the teaching and learning model to motivate and re-engage an entirely new generation of students.

“Everywhere else in our economy, ‘digital’ is forcing businesses to let their customers customize their clothing, their cuisine, their news, and most anything else they want to buy; (our challenge…) is to help us do the same for a child’s education.”

–    Rupert Murdoch

Why hasn’t the education system evolved faster? For years, technology has been seen as a distraction by education officials. Now, many districts are beginning to realize that it’s quite the opposite. Technology is not a distraction. It’s an enabler. Many schools are implementing 1:1 laptop initiatives (Mooresville Digital Conversion- Put Kids First) and “bring your own device” programs. These initiatives are coupled with online and project-based learning.  As a result of these programs, educators have seen dramatic results in student performance. If utilized properly, technology can lead to a far greater level of student engagement and motivation.

Technology can also be used to dramatically reduce, and even eliminate, administrative costs. The Rockwood, Anoka-Hennepin, Mooresville, Walled Lake and Paradise Valley school districts are only a few of the districts that have found ways to reduce costs through the implementation of technology.

The Rockwood school district is leading the way on this front. By virtualizing their system, Rockwood has been able to reduce their server count from 85 to 65. This saves them around $200,000 annually. Furthermore, they’ve purchased a mix of computer models that has resulted in over $1 million in savings. An energy management system allows administrators to shut down computers that are not in use. They’ve estimated that this saves them about $150,000-$200,000. These are only a few of the ways that technology has helped districts exponentially reduce their overhead.  Byreducing overhead, educational institutions are finding new ways to invest in their core mission of educating students: video for distance learning, unified communications for enhanced collaboration, online learning.

As of right now outdated and inefficient technologies are draining hundreds of thousands of dollars from school districts that already struggle with a constrained budget. This problem is one that can be solved by new technology. By updating and implementing new technology systems, schools are now paving the way for the future.

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  1. Tom,
    I think you may be onto something. When we can no longer do the same as we’ve been doing because the money is not longer there to support it, we have two choices: give up or adapt.

    Implementing change in education must come from two directions simultaneously: the top down and the bottom up. One or the other alone doesn’t work or doesn’t work nearly as well.

    So, if you are a teacher and are ready to try new technologies, strategies, etc. I say, “Go for it.” If the administration or the rest of the teachers aren’t ready for it, you may have to go it alone, the best you can. It might not make you very popular outside your classroom, but the children will benefit.

    If you are an administrator, must you wait until ALL teachers are on board to embrace new technologies? Just go with the ones who are interested. And please be sure to provide ways for them to learn HOW to use it.

    In my opinion, videoconferencing is one of the best investments you can make. You can connect with others who can fill in gaps for you and your teachers and you can do the same for them. Connect with other schools; connect with businesses who use these tools daily – they can teach you, your teachers AND your students. They are usually more than willing, as they are investing in the workforce of the not so distant future!

    Be creative. Money, or lack of it, isn’t the stopper – our attitudes do that.