NCLB Prompts Districts to Re-Examine Technology Plans

Published September 1, 2003

Technology and K-12 Education

While the past decade has seen entrepreneurs seize the new opportunities offered by a browsable Internet, low-cost connectivity, and cheap digital video devices to develop innovative cyberschools serving widely scattered student bodies, traditional public schools have not been marking time as far as technology is concerned. Each school computer now is shared by only three students and, with a cumulative commitment of approximately $8.5 billion to schools, the federal E-rate program has resulted in 94 percent of schools being linked to the Internet, with 76 percent having high-speed access.

But with the increased accountability called for under the No Child Left Behind Act, public schools are now beginning to undertake another transformation to align technology with operational and academic goals. This transformation is addressed in a recent report from Eduventures, Inc., an independent research firm that focuses exclusively on the coverage and service of learning markets. The accompanying article is based on that report.

The convergence of long-standing education reform efforts, education policy initiatives such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and innovative developments in technology is challenging state, district, and school administrators to rethink the way they approach the fulfillment of their academic mission. A number of districts across the country are designing technology infrastructures to achieve greater transparency around business processes, critical performance metrics, and improved student performance.

Due to the success of the federal E-rate program and the drive to connect schools to the Internet, K-12 schools are now in a position to leverage existing hardware and connectivity by developing an application infrastructure that supports efficiency in operations and affects student achievement.

As a result, K-12 education is on the cusp of a new era. This new period will be typified by better measures of individual and aggregate student performance, stronger accountability standards, and more equitable access to the resources students need to succeed in school.

The challenge for administrators is to juggle the attendant, multiple priorities vying for their attention:

  • addressing federal mandates for progress in school performance;
  • responding effectively to shrinking funding sources and tightening budgets; and
  • reengineering familiar business processes and training staff to tap the full potential of technology investments.

Tackling these academic, financial, and technological challenges at once is a daunting task, one that requires viewing K-12 technology solutions within the context of the overarching mission of K-12 schools.

Re-Envisioning the Landscape

For the better part of a decade, K-12 technology efforts have focused on inputs:

  • connecting schools to the Internet through E-rate funding;
  • driving down student-to-computer ratios to improve access in the classroom;
  • installing student information systems to aid in the management of critical student data.

What has been absent, until recently, is an understanding of the strategic value of focusing on outputs. When schools focus only on inputs, there is no incentive to think strategically about the interrelatedness of the components in a school’s technology infrastructure. For example, technology purchasing has been a highly fragmented endeavor, leaving many administrators with the challenge of integrating a labyrinth of technology platforms.

By focusing on outputs, educators can begin to think strategically about the long-term effects of their technology purchasing decisions. Providing a school with a connection to the Internet does not, by itself, improve education. Likewise, putting a computer at the fingertips of every child will not necessarily help schools demonstrate annual progress in student performance.

Aligning Technology with Goals

Most administrators now recognize that complying with the federal mandate for improved educational performance requires focusing on outputs.

With this changed focus, it quickly becomes apparent that everything from back-office to classroom-based applications must be aligned to support critical educational outputs: from measuring and demonstrating student progress to triaging and remediating declines in individual student performance.

Through the accurate and efficient collection and sorting of key aggregate student performance data, districts are better positioned to evaluate the effectiveness of existing investments and modify instructional strategies that can improve the chances of success for every student.

For administrators, the operational challenge is to achieve improved outputs–and ultimately student outcomes–with fewer financial and human resources. To succeed, districts can start by rationalizing their technology investments via the centralization of core components of their technology infrastructure.

Single Point Connection

From an enterprise perspective, a district’s technology infrastructure is an integrated, interoperable amalgamation of systems and applications accessible through a single point–or portal–by any constituent within that educational community. (See Figure 1.)

This model is a vision for the future of the K-12 technology landscape. It demonstrates the potential for numerous, distinct technology systems to be accessed from a single point–an automated, integrated district-wide system that provides efficiencies and enhanced modes of instruction to educators.

In most K-12 districts, various constituents access a number of point systems through individual interfaces and logins, complicating technology access and management. Through an enterprise portal model, individuals can access numerous systems through a single, secure login, simplifying end-user access and facilitating management of a district’s numerous applications.

In many ways, the vision for the integrated model of educational applications is ahead of its time–the vendor community still has work to do to evolve the standards that enable the interoperation of diverse applications. The education community needs to work with vendors to develop common technology standards to achieve this vision.

Benefits of Enterprise Technology

Districts such as Fairfax, Virginia, Lake Washington, Washington, and member districts of the Colorado Consortium for Data Exchange have sought to unify their academic, operational, and technology planning by beginning to centralize their technology infrastructure and deploying an enterprise technology solution for their schools. In so doing, these districts have benefited in ways that have helped them to address persistent technological challenges–such as limited budgets, high maintenance costs, and inaccessibility of data–and human resources challenges.

Among the key benefits of deploying enterprise technology solutions for schools are:

  • Usability–Enabling uniform interfaces through which administrators, teachers, students, and parents can securely “log on” and access data sets and other information tailored to their roles and needs;
  • Efficiency–Streamlining technology management and reducing friction in the use, maintenance, and support of applications;
  • Interoperability–Integrating applications from numerous vendors and facilitating seamless data flow from one repository to another;
  • Scalability–Allowing great scale and scope of users at any given time;
  • Adaptability–Enabling districts to upgrade and extend application sets and incorporate new tools and solutions; and
  • Security–Providing identification management, authentication, authorization, and access control, to ensure users have access to the appropriate level of information and resources.

Centralizing a district’s technology infrastructure does not have to be a rapid, large-scale undertaking. Rather, it can be, and often is, a gradual process that takes a number of years to implement.

© 2003 Eduventures, Inc. This article is based on the June 2003 white paper from Eduventures, Inc., “Re-Envisioning the K-12 Landscape: Leveraging Enterprise Technology Solutions to Support the Mission of K-12 Schools,” by Emily Trask and Peter Stokes. Stokes is executive vice president of Eduventures, Inc. and Trask is analyst and senior editor.

For more information … The June 2003 report from Eduventures, Inc., “Re-Envisioning the K-12 Landscape,” by Emily Trask and Peter Stokes, is available online from Eduventures at