MSBA leads charge to step up equity and funding for technology in the classroom

On Wednesday, March 11, MSBA brought forth its vision for the future of education technology in schools in front of the House Education Finance Committee.

(Earlier this session, MSBA delivered a presentation January 20 before the Senate Education Committee. Click here for related story.)

The use of technology in the classroom is critical now and in the future for our students. MSBA is trying to influence and inspire the Legislature to invest more in education technology in the classroom. 

MSBA (led by Denise Dittrich), the Minnesota Association of School Administrators (MASA), and technology experts from school districts and technology organizations collaborated on their “Technology is the Conduit to Opportunity.” (Click here to view a copy of the PowerPoint presentation.)

MSBA began working with MASA and the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) three months ago to start a discussion regarding technology in schools.

“We started out with three questions,” Dittrich told the committee. “Where are we? Where do we need to go? How do we get there? As we began the discussion and shared experiences and goals a theme evolved that encompassed a response to all three questions. The theme: ‘Technology is the Conduit to Opportunity.’ Technology will continue to be the required conduit in our schools by which our children engage in every-day life, learn skills and prepare for their personal career path.”

The experts Dittrich brought in to testify demonstrated critical ways technology is the “conduit to effective learning” in our classrooms today. Dittrich noted that technology opportunities are NOT available for some students in some parts of the state.

“These opportunities are not ‘uniform’ as the Minnesota Constitution envisions,” Dittrich said. “There is a digital gap — many times affected by ZIP code.”

To get where we need to go in the future, we have to “make sure all students have the opportunity to positively participate in the digital world that has swept every aspect of a child’s world,” Dittrich added. “Without equity in technology innovation in our schools, we are marginalizing some students who will not be prepared for the 21st century workforce.”

Dittrich added: “At MSBA we are supportive of dedicated, ongoing, funding to allow school districts revenue to develop and implement the long-term strategic technology plans. What form that funding takes is not as important providing the revenue to implement their plans. As one school district official said it: ‘Technology needs to become a reality rather than a dream.’”

Rep. Drew Christensen has authored three bills that would help with that “dream.” Christensen’s HF 838 and HF 856 would provide funding to increasing technology in the classroom. His HF 854 calls for increasing operating capital revenue for school districts to account for technology needs.

“As our students enter the 21st century workforce, it’s imperative that they have the skills necessary for future success,” Christensen said. “Ensuring that classrooms have up-to-date methods for student learning will prepare our students for whatever their futures may hold.”

***

Margaret Anderson Kelliher — chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband and the CEO of the Minnesota High Tech Association — provided some important information. Here are some highlights:

  • Access to affordable broadband is crucial for expanding economic and educational opportunities for all Minnesotans. Over the last four years, Minnesota has made significant progress toward achieving its statutory broadband speed and accessibility goals.
  • Achieving the goal of border-to-border broadband access in Minnesota will require significant capital investment—between $900 million and $3.2 billion.
  • Nearly 37 percent of largely rural households remain underserved with respect to state goals. This inequity, especially in rural areas, makes it particularly challenging to provide our schools with the technology they need to educate our children with the 21st century skills. The Broadband Task Force is working on gathering data about our connectivity rates at all K-12 schools in the state.
  • Demand for broadband will only increase over time, for businesses, schools and families.
  • Technology is already playing an increasingly important role in our schools. For example, schools are now beginning to implement 1-to-1 device initiatives, where each student is assigned a personal device for use in the classroom and at home.
  • If your school district is in a county with slow or limited broadband availability, it will be difficult to make a 1-to-1 device initiative a success.
  • Even without a device initiative, the lack of access to broadband hinders multiple facets of education:
  1. assignment of homework that requires the use of the Internet for research;
  2. communication between teachers, parents and students;
  3. submitting class assignments;
  4. the paying of school sports fees or school lunches;
  5. the individual student’s own comfort when it comes to taking standardized tests online on a school computer. 
  • Disparity in our schools also has an impact on our workforce. Students need 21st century skills to find jobs in today’s economy. This has an impact on Minnesota’s workforce.
  • Technology and workforce needs have changed over the last decade or two but our education system as failed to keep pace with these changes when it comes to adoption of technology in the classroom.

***

Mark Hurlburt, president of the Bloomington-based Prime Digital Academy, spoke about 21st century job skills.

“I’m here today to encourage you on behalf of the tech community to invest in programs throughout the educational system to foster the development of both the skills and the passion our industry needs in the next generation of software developers if we are to be successful,” Hurlburt said.

Hurlburt said the three most critical issues that the Legislature could support through increased education funding are: diversity in technology, job-readiness and industry outreach. Highlights from Hurlburt’s presentation:

“To successfully bring more and more diverse people into high-paying tech jobs that drive economic development, they have to be able to see a future for themselves in those industries. Part of that is the industry needing to take ownership of its lack of diversity and its failure to invest in entry-level talent and that’s something that organizations like mine are trying to tackle. But the other part is for government and the educational system to work to expose our children to computer science and programming before they can develop the notion that technology isn’t for people like them. … I urge you to support efforts like HF 672 (sponsored by Rep. Sarah Anderson) that would count computer science courses toward math credits at high schools in Minnesota. We need to provide students exposure to programming and computer science early enough that they haven’t had the chance to decide that it’s not a future open to them.”

“Another part of helping students start on the road towards relevant 21st century job skills is to support the development of programs and curriculum to help students build the ‘soft’ skills necessary for success in what is an increasingly collaborative industry. We’ve met with dozens of employers in Minnesota to build out our curriculum and at every single one of them, the focus was on communication, collaboration and teamwork skills. Specific technology skills are important but frankly, trying to teach kids in high school tech skills that will be relevant by the time they are entering the job market is a waste of time. Technology changes too fast. We need to be focusing on teaching people universal skills that will serve them their entire careers and be teaching them how to be lifelong learners if we want to prepare them for careers in software development. Software engineers learn through experience, through tinkering — taking things apart and putting them back together. We need more experiential learning in computer science if we want to be priming our children with the skills they’ll need to succeed in the workforce.”

“The last point that I’d urge you to support are mechanisms by which you can engage the industry in partnership to support exposing students to programming and computer science. We have a vibrant technology committee in Minnesota and there is no reason we can’t set an example for the nation of what could happen if the industry shares some of the responsibility of helping students to explore careers in software development.”

About mnmsba

The Minnesota School Boards Association, a leading advocate for public education, supports, promotes and strengthens the work of public school boards.
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