Unleashing Ed Tech Potential?

It is no secret that Eduflack has been less than impressed with the federal government’s recent commitment (or lack there of) to education technology.  In recent years, federal dollars for ed tech have been a fraction of what they should be or of what other industries experience.  And this year, as part of the budget process, the White House and Congress agreed to put the EETT program out to pasture, killing a terrific program that directed needed dollars to supporting classroom educators on how best to incorporate technology into classroom instruction.

As the feds look to pare back its commitment to ed tech, it should come as no surprise that others are taking a closer look at how to direct more resource and better direct existing resource into the classroom.  Under the guide of determining how we provide a 21st century classroom and learning experience for all 21st century students, we are now seeing states, school districts, non-profits, and the private sector step in to fill a much-needed role.
The latest example of this is the Boston Consulting Group, which today released a new report entitled Unleashing the Potential of Technology in Education.  The report is best consumed in two chunks.  The first is a primer on the “closed loop instructional system,” a model that BCG researchers see as essential to maximizing technology investment in our K-12 education systems.
The second chunk is the always necessary list of recommendations for policymakers.  (And I’ll say it again, if a group issues a report without a specific call to action or clear recommendations, it may as well release a study with nothing more than blank pages.
Unleashing the Potential offers seven recommendations for decisionmakers:
* Embrace a holistic closed-loop strategy to meet clear educational goals
* Enable teachers to use and leverage technology in the classroom
* Create and engaging student experience
* Promote the development of high-quality digital assessments that enable continuous feedback
* Develop a critical mass of research that confirms – or refutes – technology’s benefits
* Enact policies that encourage and facilitate the proliferation of digital learning
* Build an information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure that enables the closed loop
Who can argue with that?  Clear goals.  Teacher empowering and student centric.  Assessments.  Research and evidence.  It sells in districts urban, suburban, and rural.  And it has something for the strongest of reformers and the most loyal of status quoers. 
Best of all, it provides some ideas for the education policy community to chew on, particularly the merits of a closed-loop instructional system.  At a time when dedicated ed tech dollars are being eliminated by the feds, supposedly replaced with ed tech being “embedded” in K-12 in general, such a system can be a win-win.
Yes, it is seriously disappointing to see in print that technology spending in the education space is just one third of what other sectors spend on IT (when you look at it in terms of total percentage of operating costs).  And yes, one realizes we aren’t going to be tripling ed tech spending in the near future.  But it is refreshing to see ed tech talked about in ways other than hardware.  And it is particularly refreshing to see some real potential for how to maximize the intersection of ed tech and human capital in our education system.
(Full disclosure: Eduflack has advised BCG and ed tech groups over the years.)

The A Word

Accountability (uh-koun-tuh-bil-i-tee) noun: The state of being subject to the obligation to report, explain, or justify something; responsible; answerable.

At its face, accountability doesn’t seem like such a bad term.  It is good to provide information or report.  Additional explanation is always valuable.  And who can really be opposed to the idea of being responsible or answerable.  Yet, somehow accountability has now become a dirty word in K-12 education.  For many, accountability is either a punchline to a joke or an accusation to be hurled at one’s worst enemies.  For others, it is something we have to apologize for or be forced to defend.
The time has come to remove the scarlet letter from the chest of K-12 education.  Accountability should be viewed as a good thing, whether one is the most ambitious of reformers or the most ardent of the status quoers.  At a time when education dollars are at a premium and education needs are reaching all time highs, a little accountability is a good thing.  It allows us to prioritize, while focusing on return on investment.
The federal government should be held accountable for how it spends its share (currently less than 10%) of the costs of education K-12 students in our public schools.  Explain how those dollars are spent and the impact of that spend.  The days of U.S. Department of Education program evaluations simply determining if they cut checks and the checks were received by the SEA.  Federal accountability needs to focus on impact, both in terms of the students impacted and the quantitative outcomes.
The states should be held accountable for its policies, funding priorities, and overall operations.  All students should have access to a high-quality school.  Data must be used to compare schools in an apples-to-apples way.  State funding formulas must align with community and student needs and expectations.  The “right” assessments should be identified and implemented to ensure effective measure of both student learning and achievement.  The SEA should be focused on ROI, both for the schools and the taxpayers.  
The districts and individual schools should be held accountable for both their inputs (instruction) and outcomes (performance).  Instructional efforts must be scientifically based  Teachers should be qualified, motivated, and successful, with the right teachers in the right jobs and right schools.  Students should demonstrate proficiency, regardless of the yardstick being used.  And all students, particularly the historically disadvantaged, should be given options if their current schools aren’t making the cut.
Teachers should be held accountable, again for both their inputs and outcomes.  All students should be learning, and that learning be measured in a quantifiable manner.  All students must gain the skills and knowledge they need to succeed  Instruction should be based on best practice.  District/SEA/federal instructional goals should be addressed on a daily basis, and not just on those days when someone from the central office may be observing.
Students should be held accountable, both for their own success and the success of their schools.  They need to arrive on time, ready to learn.  Students must respect their educators and maximize instructional time.  All kids should be demonstrating proficiency (by international/federal/state standards) or at least demonstrate they are working toward it, and that proficiency must be measured quantitatively.  And students should have (and execute) remedies if they aren’t getting the quality of instruction they need.
Families need to be held accountable.  They must be engaged in their students’ schools. They should elect state and local officials committed to school improvement.  They need to ensure teachers and administrators are using research-proven instructional practices.  They must know how their students are doing in class, both from a qualitative and quantitative perspective.  And they should take specific action steps if their kids aren’t performing at expected levels.
And, of course, all of the wonks, the talking heads, the influencers, the advisors, and the chattering class needs to be held accountable.  Are we focused on student achievement?  Are we focused on equity?  Are we focused on student skills and knowledge?  Do we help hold all stakeholders accountable, why doing the same to ourselves?  Do we engage with both our friends and those we don’t necessarily agree with?  Do we have clear, shared definitions of success?
Accountability should be a badge of honor.  Being responsible and answerable is essential, particularly when we are talking about improving public education for our kids.  While we may disagree on some of the specifics, can’t we all agree that all those who touch the lives of young learners should be held accountable, both for the inputs and the outcomes?