Technology Integration in Chicago Public Elementary Schools, 1997-1998

August 1, 1999

This report presents key findings from research conducted in the Chicago public school system during the 1997-'98 school year.

The goals of this research were:

  • To determine how elementary schools that have chosen to invest energy and resources in making technologies an important part of their work are currently making use of those technologies.
  • To identify promising practices and models currently being used in schools.
  • To identify key obstacles to making use of technology.
  • To explore what connections are being made, or could be made, between technology initiatives and school reform efforts in Chicago.
  • To explore how teachers and administrators in this sample of schools, as well as relevant district personnel and representatives of the school reform community, understand the current and potential role that technology plays in supporting the process of strengthening Chicago's elementary schools.

Based on observations and interviews in ten schools and interviews with a wide range of education stakeholders in Chicago's central district offices, school reform organizations, and universities, we concluded that while the hurdles to successful technology integration are significant, many large- and small-scale efforts are under way to make technology a central part of the process of school improvement in Chicago. In the schools in our sample, at the district level, and in a number of innovative outreach programs, major investments are being made in infrastructure development, hardware purchasing, and support personnel. Teachers are discovering and exploring innovative applications for technology in their classrooms through alternative curriculum programs, peer coaching, and their own experimentation.

Principals in these schools are making their technology programs central to their overall vision of school improvement and educational achievement.

However, serious obstacles exist that make meaningful technology use an everyday struggle in all of these schools. Strong accountability measures that discourage experimentation in favor of drills and memorization, lack of clarity in school leaders' visions of the role technology should play in their overall school program, limited opportunities for professional development, inadequate buildinglevel technical support, and inadequate electrical wiring and aging school buildings are all major obstacles we encountered in many schools in this study.

We have found that the following set of factors interact with one another in each of the schools we studied. Taken together, they play a central role in determining how capable each school will be of capitalizing on their existing resources and moving forward from their current state of technology integration. These factors are:

  • Robust technology: Having an infrastructure that works well enough to support the work that teachers and students are doing.
  • Freedom to innovate and experiment: Having a shared belief within the school that it is more important to try new things and improve one's practices over time than to stick with practices that are safe but limited.
  • Diversity of application: Having more than one kind of technology use going on in the school, so that teachers with different levels of experience and different interests can find points of entry that will allow them to get involved in technology use.
  • Depth and quality of staffing: Having the right combination of people on the school staff to cover all the various components (teaching, planning, maintaining) of advancing technology integration in the school.
  • Professional development: Providing a range of sustained, collegial, and immediately relevant opportunities for teachers to build their technology skills and learn about ways that technology can support their teaching.


    1. Enhance and coordinate support resources for developing and maintaining technology infrastructure in schools. Key issues for enhanced coordination include decisions about hardware and networking acquisition and upgrading; software choice and acquisition; and sustained, responsive technical support.
    2. Enhance and sustain school-level leadership that focuses on instructional uses of technology. Developing means and mechanisms to systematically support and benefit from the experience of leaders in schools deploying technologies well is important and can be done in a number of mutually reinforcing ways, including use of electronic networks and the creation of a district-wide working group.
    3. Invest in and leverage the skills and knowledge of teacher-leaders. A system needs to be developed that enables Chicago public school teachers to learn effectively and efficiently from one another about the infusion of technology into curriculum.
    4. Expand the corps of Technology Resource Network Consultants and support their continuous professional growth. The corps needs to be substantially expanded if this model is to be a realistic solution for technical and curriculum support city-wide. In addition, all members of the corps will need ongoing training.
    5. Address what many schools and teachers experience as discontinuities between what they perceive to be effective uses of the new technologies and accompanying instructional practices, and the demands of the current student assessment system.
    6. Encourage different kinds of "design experiments" using technologies to improve learning and teaching, and systematically investigate their effects. Systematic innovation in local schools and classrooms needs to be encouraged; careful monitoring of these designs, and the formative evidence that can be gained from them, is crucial to effective decision making throughout the district.
    7. Invest in comprehensive professional development and preparation of teachers to use technologies well. Coordinated programs that prepare teachers to use technologies well are needed; beyond isolated workshops, these resources should be infused into all professional development programs in the district


Katherine Culp
Jennifer Schwartz
Lauren Mesa
Jessie Gilbert
Jan Hawkins