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Friday, April 01, 2005

Critique of a Tech Plan

Written for class of course...

Items that catch your attention, things you would do different, sections that you agree/disagree with, questions raised from the reading etc.

Note that all page numbers below refer to pages in the Newark Public Schools Plan: http://www.nps.k12.nj.us/2001planfinal.doc

The first item that caught my attention was that this technology plan, written for 2001 to 2004, is already out of date. (p. 1) So, thank you to Charnette, who provided us with the link to a draft of the current plan, written for 2004 to 2007: http://www.nps.k12.nj.us/techplan.html

Like several others who have already posted, I also noted (and approved of) the presence of a student and parent on the instructional technology committee. (p. 2) The district leadership had clearly grasped that "for this plan to be effectively implemented there must be commitment from all sectors of the education community, including partnerships with business and higher education." (p. 5) Unfortunately, there was limited evidence of this within the plan.

In order to lend some structure to my critique , I will consider the five primary elements of Commission on Technology in Learning's (CTL) Education Technology Planning: A Guide for School Districts.

  • Curriculum
  • Professional Development
  • Infrastructure, Hardware, and Software
  • Funding and Budgeting
  • Monitoring and Evaluation


    Curriculum

    This element of the California technology planning guide was primarily represented by the "Student Outcomes" section of the Newark plan. (p. 12) It's admirable that the plan referred to the "National Educational Technology Standards for Students (NETS) Project" (p. 4) in the executive summary, but I see only limited and non-specific evidence of the NETS in the Student Outcomes section and goals sections.

    The philosophy was sound, as expounded in the introduction ("Traditionally, learning has been under the teacher's control, not the student’s. Technology plays a vital role in facilitating the transition in the learning process by allowing the teacher to engage in interactive, adaptive and dynamic interaction with learners " p. 7), but again these things are not represented in the student outcomes section. I was frankly shocked by the small number of student outcomes.

    Ultimately, this plan does not start with the students and the curriculum and then work out from there, building everything else in support of the district's educational mission. This is my greatest disappointment with this plan.


    Professional Development

    Clearly the "Staff Development" section of the Newark plan covers this element of the California technology planning guide. (p. 53) There is a sort of professional development belief statement in the executive summary of the Newark plan:

    Effective use of technology depends on the knowledge and skills of the teacher, the person with the greatest impact on the classroom environment. Therefore, our vision also includes a charge to support our instructional staff, and provide them with continuing technical support and professional development.


    It is also admirable that they do not ignore their classified support personnel. In the Administrative Applications section they assert that "staff development in the use of administrative applications is key to the successful implementation of this plan" (p. 14).


    Hardware, Software, and Infrastructure

    Perhaps the "Administrative Applications" section of the Newark plan would fall under this element of the California technology planning guide. (p. 13) On the whole, though, I feel that not enough consideration was given to these issues. I was sad to see that CD-ROMs were considered new technology in 2001 (p. 7), and that it would take the entire life of the plan before the district would complete "installation of LANs in all schools" (p. 9).

    The "Facilities Management" section included some of the most specific plans within the document, and would also fall under this element of the California technology planning guide. (p. 56).


    Funding and Budgeting

    The "Spending Plan" (p. 58) corresponds most closely to this element of the California technology planning guide. Like many other sections of the Newark plan, though, it is full of general statements. The budget chart, however, is detailed and seems well thought out.


    Monitoring and Evaluation

    The brief "Evaluation" section of the Newark plan clearly falls under this element of the California technology planning guide. (p. 66)

    The executive summary does include the statement that If this plan is to succeed, it must be supported, not only in concept, but moneys must be identified to provide our students with the appropriate technology infused learning environments. (p. 5) The "Managing the Plan" section (p. 52) should have included a systematic plan for ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the district technology plan and the use of educational technology within the district. Instead it includes only this final sentence: "They will also continue to review the plan and make adjustments."

    The final evaluation section does include the following:

    Data will be collected annually on the progress of the implementation of the plan. The data will include information on the status of the goals and objectives, the acquisition of equipment, the development of partnerships and the delivery of staff development. The committee will meet after the first year to review the data, modify and adjust the activities, and report on the progress.


    But, waiting a year before reviewing data seems fool hardy to me. Such an implementation would require constant ongoing monitoring and re-evaluation.


    Other things that caught my attention...

    The plan did acknowledge that "For this plan to be effectively implemented there must be commitment from all sectors of the education community, including partnerships with business and higher education" (p. 5) However, I see very little evidence of specific plans to achieve such partnerships.

    The plan makes claims such as "Every article, every report and every speech about education addresses the issue of reform and restructuring" and "a large body of research demonstrates the importance of using technology in education as the catalyst to effect change in the classroom" (p. 6) without substantiating these claims. What research it did include was sorely outdated (ie more than five years old at the time - most was over ten years old).

    I thought the statement that "although technology is not a solution to the problems of education, the research indicates that it can be a powerful educational tool to improve teaching and learning" (p. 8) was a powerful statement, but wish it would have been better substantiated in the plan.

    I was happy to see a section titled "Background/Needs Assessment" (p. 9), primarily on account of the "Needs Assessment." Unfortunately, this section was very heavy on background, and lacking in true needs assessment. I saw no evidence of an active needs assessment process, such as surveys of stakeholders or tests of infrastructure. It was also unclear to me that objectives were aligned with the needs assessment. Such alignment should have been the backbone of the plan.

    I sympathized a great deal with the assertion that "the Technology Coordinator must continue to be an on-site support for classroom teachers," but found the assessment that "all students and their teachers should have access to information in their classrooms, schools, communities and homes" (p. 11) to be unnecessarily and unrealistically lofty.

    Goals 4 and 5 (ongoing research, and digital content) were particularly ambitious and exciting, but the objectives were vacuous, and in the case of goal five, included meaningless (or poorly defined) percentages as benchmarks. I have seen the futility of trying to capture and define such things in percentages during my recent management of a round 1 EETT grant in California.

    The activity plans are lengthy, difficult to read, and yet almost entirely devoid of specifics that could drive implementation. I don't expect that these pages served as a meaningful guiding document during the past four years.

    All in all, if this is the first complete tech plan that the district had attempted, then it is an good first effort which at least touches on each key element of a tech plan. I hope that I will find something more comprehensive in their 2004 to 2007 plan, but at a glance this does not seem as if it will be the case.


    'Looking forward to your comments. :)

    -Mark

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