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1980’s Planning in 2014: A State-by-State Look at Ed Tech Planning

It was no surprise to recently read Ed Week’s look-back post about the absence of smart education technology planning in 1989. According to an article from Ed Week’s archives, a survey that year of 773 districts with 10,000 students or more showed that “technology planning is clearly a weak area of endeavor.”

In fact, it felt eerily familiar to what I have seen during my recent research here at New America: an analysis of all 50 states’ ed tech planning. As I have found, that lack of thoughtful planning in the 1980s still exists in the present day. While the problems schools and educators face have evolved, the planning done by each state has not.

To conduct this analysis, I collected each state’s education technology plans starting from the Department of Education’s database. I analyzed the plans for several key components—this included student learning objectives, professional development goals, and staff support—and recorded the results into a database for each state. Many of the links in the national database through the Department of Education are no longer active, or led to plans that were not updated past the year 2012. In these cases, we reached out to state education representatives to find out if there was an updated plan and where it could be accessed.

Here’s what I have found: just 19 states have planned past the year 2012. Of those, five state have plans that do not include student learning objectives or professional development objectives, which in our estimation here at New America makes them fairly bare-bones, limited updates. Meanwhile, New Jersey and New York both indicated that, while they do not have plans updated past 2012, they are dedicating time to planning and intend to have updated plans this year. The remaining 30 (including the District of Columbia) have no current state education technology plans publicly available at all—most have confirmed they are not continuing with state-wide education technology planning.

In short, while some states appear to be looking ahead, many others are stuck.

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There is no universal template or structure for educational technology planning; for the 19 states with up-to-date plans, they are all the more impressive for realistically addressing how they will successfully implement modern technology in their state’s schools. Some states, like Virginia, have maintained in-depth and progressive plans since the 1980s. Ed Week’s 1989 article stated, “The Virginia Board of Education has adopted a six- year technology plan that encompasses planning for such technologies as video, microcomputers, and distance learning by satellite” and stressed the need to “prepare students for life in the 21st century.” Now we’re in the 21st century, and Virginia has continued to lead the way in planning: their 2010-2015 Educational Technology Plan contains specific objectives for student learning, infrastructure development, and teacher professional development.

Virginia is not the only state with an organized approach to making technological progress; states like Ohio and Maryland also have modern, detailed plans as well. On the other end of the spectrum, states such as Iowa, Missouri, and Montana have indicated that they are no longer planning at the state level, letting past planning efforts expire prior to 2012.

There are many potential reasons for the lack of updates; by defunding the Enhancing Education through Technology (EETT) program in 2011, the U.S. Department of Education eliminated the largest federal incentive for state-level education technology planning. The E-rate program also recently dropped its requirement that states produce a plan in order to apply for funding. Additionally, when contacted, one state official responded that, “In light of the ubiquitous way in which technology has infused itself into our daily routines, the need for state technology plans is no longer necessary, in my opinion.” He elaborated that because planning has been dropped as a funding requirement, there is even less desire for states to create updated plans.

Since the 1980s, the challenges states must consider have, indeed, evolved. For instance, school officials are no longer concerned with the amount of electrical outlets in classrooms when trying to improve technological infrastructure. Today, officials are concerned with the increasing broadband requirements necessitated by recent technologies—something I discussed in my last post about the discussion at a recent Capitol Hill forum. While the challenges have changed, the state of education technology planning has remained disappointingly consistent. John Schlotfeldt, a former secondary-school principal quoted in Ed Week’s 1989 article, noted that “schools will spend thousands of dollars to acquire sophisticated software and equipment, but they don’t seem to have a plan for how to use it effectively.” One thing is for certain, Ed Week’s look back to 1989 could just as easily be a look back on 2012.

Something else Schlotfeldt said in 1989 also holds true though: excellent planning can help states hold themselves accountable both in terms of spending and implementation. Hopefully more states will hold themselves accountable in the future.