Saturday, December 14, 2013


Mapping 1 to 1 computing in North Carolina 2013

As the embedded map above shows, 36% of the 115 public school districts in NC have major digital 1:1 programs extending across all students at some range of grade levels. (Please note any corrections needed in the Comments box below.) Some districts have gone K-12 (though most of those are intermediate grades and up); many have gone 6th grade and up; and more are just high school in implementation. As there is no choice but to look ahead, where should we focus in this turbulence between the paper-textbook past and the digital future?

North Carolina faces a double-whammy. On the one hand it struggles with the long standing issues of the last century stirred by the industrial age and factory manufacturing, improving student achievement against a range of challenges. More recently these challenges have included sinking teacher morale, sinking numbers of support staff, sinking recruitment and sinking budgets while facing accelerating teacher attrition (Bonner & Stancill, 2014). On the other hand it struggles in getting schools positioned for the creativity, inventiveness and entrepreneurship necessary for turbulent 21st century life, culture and economy. This includes the critical invention and rollout of effective 1 to 1 (e.g., 1to1, 1:1) programs where each child in the school district has a computing device of some kind (laptops, touch tablets, netbooks or ereaders);  state schools are in a race against a deadline of 2017 when state legislation has mandated an end to paper, transitioning to digital access for all textbooks and instructional resources.

As a sign of the heroic efforts of educational leaders, the momentum for 1:1 is discernible. The exponential changes in the last couple of years are astonishing, perhaps nearing a tipping point. Will we tip as far as the statewide success of Maine? It wasn't but a couple of years ago there was just one county (Greene) and one city (Mooresville) that were 1:1 on my map with a scattering of small pilot projects elsewhere. Pulling against the progress shown by this map are the vast empty swaths of the still-all-white counties (with no widespread 1:1), a giant boat anchor that drags against state progress.

Can/does it mean anything when schools do go 1:1? The Mooresville superintendent was the national super of the year for 2013 as a result of his  work since 2008 in making the transition educationally effective there. Yes, notice that it took their school district 5 years before this mark of achievement was possible and that almost everyone else in the state is just getting started with 1:1. Further, the batch of digital literacy legislation that was signed into law in the spring 2013 was the result of a legislative committee that did a state tour the prior summer and then was amazed by what they learned when they followed the path of many to visit Mooresville classrooms. This tour led to getting Neill Kimrey (DPI division chief for Digital Teaching and Learning, who was on the tour with them) to assist in drafting this legislation. Now that's impact.

Does leadership vision count?  In a study done by NC State's Friday Institute of 18 NC high schools that went one to one (2008-2011), the results in year 2 were rather ho-hum.

"When focusing only on the 1:1 schools, results of multi-level modeling analyses showed there were no significant effects on students’ 2010 EOC scores based on the length of 1:1 implementation, the quality of 1:1 implementation, or teachers’ ratings of principal leadership"  (Corn et al, 2011).  

Yet these lagging if not seemingly stagnant results can be seen as consistent with the Mooresville experience; it takes not just years to develop the expertise for significant impact, but great resources as well. This is just as true for educational systems as for other organizational systems, including government and business. One research team analyzed over six hundred companies and found that

"it takes an average five to seven years before full productivity benefits are visible in the productivity of the firms making the investments. This reflects the time and effort required to make the other complementary investments that bring a computerization effort success. In fact, for every dollar of investment in computer hardware, companies need to invest up to another nine dollars in software, training and business process design" (Brynjolfsson & McAfee, 2014). 

As with any great transition, the shakedown cruise will have its challenges. One of those challenges will be recognizing that it is critical to find those other nine dollars for every dollar spent on the computer hardware present and arriving in state classrooms.

Becoming aware of what others have learned who have gone down the 1:1 path is also critical in making effective use of the dollars that do get spent.  The One-to-One Institute reports research and distilled advice from the over 2,000 schools with 1:1 programs that have taken place in the United States over the past 12 years. See: showcase sites1:1 iPad deployment map. Portugal's 1:1  has been in implementation for its 1.7 million students since 2009. There are many recent and sometimes tragic stories from the national stage that can inform educational planning: Philadelphia SLALewisville High School, outside of Dallas, Tx;  Los Angeles, 1 , 2, ;  Miami-Dade County Public Schools, 1; Guilford County, NC, 1; Fort Bend, TX, 1.

Let's watch for research on how our 1:1 schools are progressing not just in 2014 but for many years ahead; let's also watch for how the legislators and taxpayers support this capacity building process. If the support is not there, it will take much much longer if ever for the predicted transformations and progress to appear. And note again that it took Mooresville at least 5 years to get its national recognition.

Another capacity building problem is that outside the state of Maine I doubt if we have more than a handful of teacher education faculty members in the state or country who have ever taught even an hour, let alone a year in a fully 1:1 public school classroom and school. If you are in higher education and have had such experience, please give us a shout out in the comment area below. On what campus are you located? This absence of university professor capacity makes this transition (e.g., revolution) a real bootstrap operation for universities that are in theory prepared to guide and lead their citizens into the future. Now is the time in which we can really lament the loss of university campus experimental K-12 schools (lab schools) that could have been the preparatory seedbeds for such futures now storming into our present. Many of these one-to-one public schools have now charged  far ahead of our faculty's experience for preparing our teacher education students for K-12 classrooms.

The NC legislative requirement (e.g., a mandated but not funded plan) that all state schools be completely digital textbook invested by 2017, which requires 1:1 everywhere,  just adds fuel to the fire. India's planned 2014 introduction of their initially rather hamstrung $35 UbiSlate tablet to the U.S. market adds more fuel. Things are happening fast and faster. Moore's law will eventually make a $20 device a serious contender, but that may take years. We are likely to make the dream of 1:1 come true, but whether the year 2017 is possible remains a key question.

The map above is built off a one-time-only-funded Race to the Top survey done in May 2013 (with data projected thru June 2013). Only one district reported nothing on the survey and then shifted to an extensive one to one implementation in the fall of 2013. If the school districts haven't gone 1:1 in some way (the remaining white counties in the map above), they usually say in their strategic plan or technology plan that they can't afford to do so. For example, though Catawba County Schools (CCS) have added "more than 4,000 computers to its inventory over the past six years, the current level of funding will make it hard to move to universal, one-to-one access" (CCS Tech Plan, 2012). CCS has just over 17,000 students and a poverty level indicated by the over half of those students on free and reduced lunch service (DSS, 2012)Every plan of a school system without 1:1 that I have checked so far has stated such intentions and problems. When I or assisting graduate students have done that check I put a purple P in on the map in the county. You can think of the P as Pre (pre-21st century) or imPoverished funding (or simply just Poverty). All new tech plans for the next five years are now due that will stretch to the year 2017. Those will prove equally interesting to analyze once they are accessible.

I also see this map as a poverty vs. wealth map. Note that it is not just a rural issue. The state's biggest cities of Charlotte and Raleigh have not been able to make this leap. This is not just about the near billion dollar cut in state funding by the legislature (Erb, 2013). Local property tax makes up nearly 25% of school budgets in NC (DPI, 2011) (far higher in other states).  Where property is worth more, more taxes can be raised. According to a Public School Forum study released January 13, 2014, "disparities have persisted over the years. The gap between the highest and lowest-spending counties is $2,280 per child" (Bonner, 2014) or over $50,000 per classroom per year. "The state picked up 62 percent of total public education costs in 2011-12, counties paid 24 percent, and the federal government paid 14 percent." Gene Arnold, Public School Forum board chairman noted that “Counties with fewer resources struggle to update classrooms with relevant technology and have a difficult time recruiting and retaining the best teachers.” Those concerns make this also a map of some of the outcomes of the role of the locally funded property tax. Some 64% of schools districts have yet to start the rollout of 1:1 programs and are saying in their technology plans that they do not have the funds to proceed. At the moment, school funding might be described as a starvation diet for those with insufficient property tax; that would be most of the state. Funded for growth they are not.

Does the property tax have to be totally replaced in the educational funding formula in order to deal with the terribly unjust and damaging inequities to children that this form of school finance causes our state (and many states)? The property tax arrangement appears to be a large rock in the stream of justice that even the Leandro case has not yet budged. It is not too difficult to examine the role of poverty on 21st century possibilities by examining the statistics and map of the percent of school students with free and reduced lunch participation in North Carolina and compare that data with the map above. Schools face twin threats, the poverty of our past and starting up curriculum for the new literacies of the technologies of our present and future. Politics is the allocation of resources. How do we move our political system to blast historically ancient forms of finance out of the way and level the playing field for everyone? How do we best communicate the real needs for 21st century capacity building?

Getting the 1:1 technology in place does not mean that anyone has really arrived any where; it is just getting to first base. One can conclude that even our most educated elite, higher education campuses, really haven't arrived anywhere either. Many campuses with university liberal studies programs have had 1:1 in place for almost twenty years without even the most basic mandated digital literacy graduation requirements to show for it. Unfortunately, recent statewide analysis showing the high percentage of digital-fluency challenged state PK-12 educators leaves out a parallel examination of higher education faculty (Spires & Bartlett, 2012).

There are a whole host of issues that follow once the new tools for learning are in student hands. Too many educational technology planning documents have thin vision statements making them read like they planned to jump thru a time warp and then say a prayer when they arrive (spray and pray tech).   Too many of those that have made the jump seem to arrive facing backwards, promising and intending to use the technology to  improve on the standardized tests for the standardized content areas that have been in use for the last century, without stated recognition of the new target that transforming digital technology has created. This past era has had a well practiced focus. What can you remember and comprehend? To arrive looking backwards is of course the normal trend for almost all innovation; work from the familiar to the unfamiliar. But the digital era requires the rest of the higher order thinking skills. Could we just move a little faster in turning around?

Eventually education and educators needs to be funded to face forward, to revamp education so that it prepares people for the next economy instead of the last one (Brynjolfsson & McAfee, 2014). Improving teacher salaries (Robertson, 2014) is just the tiny tip of the iceberg of problems needing to be faced. The focus of the new era has its own central questions. What can you critique and create? These skills defy standardization. The former era focused on "remembering" skills is ending with an economy rapidly replacing less-skilled people with digitally driven machines, shifting those unprepared to the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. Further, when human beings are programmed to act on the orders of a computer algorithm (many service sector jobs) they are merely in the cross-hairs of future automation programs. The new "create" era has begun with growth of those who can drive the new machines and new systems, adding value by composing and coding them in increasingly interesting and novel ways. The new ethic might be defined as program or be programmed.

The new era requires capacity building digital education for educators, from PK thru the university. This requires learning the numerous options of the digital palette transition that  accelerate the hyperdrive developments of cyberspace and makerspace. The next challenge is mapping educational progress beyond merely having the technology to having fluent literacy with the technology, with the elements of this digital palette. This knowledge will take students and education deep into the future of the new places that the "flatworld" invites them to invent and startup every hour they are online. "Becoming digitally literate is not an option. As a matter of economic development, North Carolina needs to ensure that learners of all ages have the skills needed to navigate in this new literacy landscape" (Spires & Bartlett, 2012).

Could we just move our preparation along a little faster? The digital palette below represents the major areas of today's digital composition skill sets. It is not rocket science to determine our school targets based on observation and study of what the billions in cyberspace and makerspace are currently doing with their 21st century digital literacy. Given the pace of change currently possible in public schools, it will apparently require some rocket science to thrive in making it through the disruptive digital transformation that is now underway.

Version 1.21, Updated November 9, 2014

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