The Sustainability Challenge: Taking EdTech to the Next Level

February 1, 2003

In the last decade, the federal, state, and local governments have invested over $40 billion to put computers in schools and connect classrooms to the Internet.

Results are positive related to hardware and connectivity. The percentage of schools connected to the Internet rose from 35 percent in 1994 to 99 percent in 2001. The student to Internet connected computer ratio has improved dramatically in an even shorter time frame, going from 12 students per computer in 1998 to five to one in 2001. Many students who do not have computer and Internet access at home at least have some access at school. However, there are indications that many schools are not using this new infrastructure to maximum advantage.

The National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers released a report in November 2002 saying states face the most dire fiscal emergency since World War II, concluding many have exhausted budget cuts and rainy-day funds and that the most difficult cuts lie ahead. Already some states are cutting educational technology (edtech) funds. Technology fatigue may also be hitting state and local policymakers just as they are given new authority (under the No Child Left Behind Act) to transfer federal edtech funds to other uses.

A number of critical actions are needed to sustain our school technology infrastructure and to take it to the next level. The "top 10" list includes:

  1. Accelerate teacher professional development
  2. "Professionalize" technical support
  3. Implement authentic edtech assessments
  4. Create a national digital trust for content development
  5. Ensure all Americans have 21st century skills
  6. Make it a national priority to bridge the home and community digital divides
  7. Focus on the emerging broadband divide
  8. Increase funding for the federal edtech block grant
  9. Share what works
  10. Continue edtech funding research

There are a number of emerging models that states and local districts can follow to get the most from, and sustain, their instructional technology infrastructure. The Consortium for School Networking's "Total Cost of Ownership" model is one.

Based on case studies in districts that are on the cutting edge of using instructional technology, this report also introduces a framework, or critical factors, for successful technology integration that are the building blocks of sustainable educational technology programs. Among the critical factors: leadership, effective management, infrastructure, professional development, and a broad coalition of stakeholders.

The findings in The Sustainability Challenge were based on research, fieldwork in three Midwestern cities, and a series of grantmaker roundtables held in New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. The project was supported with a generous grant from the Joyce Foundation of Chicago and is the third in a series focusing on the ERate and other edtech investments.