I’m going to post this again…it’s an email about online testing in Texas. Due to listserv rules, I can’t share which chief technology officer sent the email, but it was a small district in West Texas. The implications for large school districts are troubling…when I first became aware of this, I was honestly puzzled at exactly the Texas Education Agency was trying to do, and how online testing is really of benefit to K-12 schools in Texas. But, that aside, the real question is where are school districts who have suffered an elitist, “put taxpayer money in private, charter schools” government going to find the funding?

After 8 years of tearing public schools down, an economy going down the tubes, trillions in debt, do we honestly believe that the pinnacle of 21st Century technology use is represented by electronic testing? “Yes, we spent $35K to get our lab in place, not to teach creativity, collaboration, communication using technology, but rather, to drill-n-kill kids on [vendor product name here] and we’re darn proud of it.”

It makes me wonder how many superintendents, CTOs/CIOs/CEOs are running around getting free meals at conferences while playing what Robert Quinn (Deep Change) labels the transactional paradigm. That is the paradigm where one’s first objective is personal survival, is focused on effective transactions (instead of core values) with others that maintain the status quo, that don’t ruffle any feathers.

Dear Colleagues,

As you know, the State now has to cut 10.5% from their budget (over $7 billion) for the next two years, the State Legislature has now realized that their new state finance formula called Target Revenue has left over 200 school districts with budget shortfalls that could take up to $2 billion in order to bring back some EQUITY, and that there is always discussion about increasing the State Technology Allotment from $30 per student to ???

Now let us turn our attention to the survey we were required to submit this past summer that would give TEA the information needed to come up with a plan and estimated budget for online testing.

TEA has recommended that we do online testing in conjunction with the replacement of our TAKS tests to EOC testing that would take place in several years. TEA believes that we can do this online testing at a start up cost of $197 million and an ongoing cost of $81 million. The report also provides conveniently that our current Technology Allotment fund provides school districts about $135,000,000 per year (4,500,000 students @$ 30 per student).

I encourage each of you to look at what the real costs of implementing EOC testing for your school district will be and then figure out what you think the State funding will provide you. It is based on a three week window for each test (except English which can be done before the others). I would pay particular attention to pages 54 and 55 as this provides their assumptions on how they came up with the budget numbers.

We looked at this in [our school district] and have found that the State funding was about three times less than what we think we would need to successfully implement this. We estimated that the State would give us $625,000 over a five year period while we estimated we needed over $2,000,000 to go with a wireless solution over this same time period. We included the infrastructure costs along with technical support and instructional technology staff costs based on our present employee ratio to computers as well as the cost of the computers and software.

The biggest disparity involves the infrastructure as our schools are old and would need a lot of electrical and network infrastructure upgrades to address this initiative. The report’s discussion with these costs stated would vary by district but with only $2000 per each group of 25 computers this is not even close. The technical and instructional technology support staff disparity was also large.

All of this makes me ask, why are we spending money on technology when we don’t even have the money to limit class size, pay our teachers better, etc.? Then, another question, why are school districts wasting money on high stakes test prep that is computerized? I still remember my complaint to my principal…why is the superintendent (Dr. Dolores Munoz at the time in Edgewood ISD) spending >$40K per campus on a Successmaker lab? Back then, I’d answer, “Give me $13,000 for professional development, software, and we’ll be set (we already had 1-2 computers per classroom).” Now, that cost has gone down thanks to the edublogosphere and free open source software. But at the very time we should be grateful for the changes, we’re still clinging to a past that requires “enterprise-level” solutions for helping children learn to read, do their math, and gain a better appreciation for what is involved in living in today’s world.

The argument hasn’t changed. School districts across Texas and the Nation insist on spending precious dollars on things that DO NOT MATTER. And, vendors keep treating for lunch.

I challenge Texas participants at TCEA to SKIP the vendor-hosted lunch, dinner, drinking party and instead, pay their own way. Send a message that you won’t be bought by “free stuff,” remind your teachers that they aren’t there to cavort in the Exhibitors’ Hall, and instead spend some time listening to their colleagues, whether it be in the space in, and around, workshops.

Finally, I’ve made this argument before. For every district that spend $50 on a copy of MS Office, save the money and instead use OpenOffice. Trust me, no one is using MS Office to its full capacity in schools. Folks in Central Office want MS Office because it’s “Microsoft.” How long will this foolishness persist?

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