Without district-level instructional technology support personnel, can the goals of HB 4 possibly be met? Probably not. And the current language of the bill might cut these personnel funds for many districts.

If the language of HB 4 does not change and restricts use of the technology allotment to only “educational materials” and not support staff, it seems possible that MANY Texas school districts which now fund their technology departments with allotment monies could be in jeopardy. This possibility was brought to my attention by Miguel Guhlin of San Antonio ISD.

How could state legislators think that any large scale instructional technology initiative, especially one as huge as that proposed in HB 4, could be implemented successfully at the district and campus levels without robust instructional technology support? It is not possible, in my humble opinion.

If you look across the state at the districts that seem to be doing the best job getting large numbers of teachers to embrace educational technology and integrate its use in the classroom (like Lewisville ISD, highlighted in this video from Spring 2003)– a clear common denominator emerges in my opinion. These districts hire certified teachers to serve as technology integration facilitators / coaches, who provide one-on-one assistance to teachers in their classrooms with lessons involving instructional technology. There is a group of “technology pioneers” in education who are going to use technology whether they are ably assisted by others or not– but after this group, there is a large gaggle of teachers that can’t and won’t integrate technology without varying degrees of hand-holding.

To this end, instructional technology departments are vital. Yes we also need technical support, but that is very different from instructional technology help. Often, school districts fund technical support but overlook or ignore instructional technology help, assuming that the teachers will figure out how to use the technology tools on their own or with the help of additional staff development / professional development sessions. The fact is, most don’t!

Some of the credit for the success we have had in the Texas Tech College of Education with distance learning growth can be directly attributed to the strong emphasis and substantially increased personnel support college administrators have given to the area of instructional technology support in the past 3 1/2 years. I wrote a report last week documenting these growth trends and further elaborating on the reasons for these successes. (PDF version available.)

Hopefully as HB 4 is in committee, the reliance that many Texas school districts place on the current tech allotment to fund their technology support departments will be highlighted and emphasized. Yes, it sounds exciting to be able to use funds previously reserved for textbook purchases for instructional technology needs. These available funds absolutely, positively must extend into the arena of support personnel, however. If adequate funding is not provided by the state technology allotment to meet these costs (which will dramatically grow as the required elements of HB 4 are implemented, I would predict) then local districts will be left with the unpleasant task of coming up with local dollars to fund personnel positions previously funded by the tech allotment. This may not be the case in all districts, but could be in many.

Of course this entire discussion about education and financing is overshadowed by the larger debate about the unconstitutionality of Texas’ present school finance system. In a law conference presentation last week, one presenter contended that since the original Texas financing case was considered the discrepancy in educational spending per student in Texas, comparing the richest districts to the poorest districts, has gone from a difference of $600 per student to a difference now of $14,500 per student.

So the funding woes of the Texas legislature and Texas school districts are certainly not limited only to the realm of educational technology– and this fact is well known.

If the basic provisions of HB 4 become law, I think it will increase the importance and visibility of the role played by district instructional technology departments. It would be a legislative travesty if a consequence of HB 4 is that some Texas school districts find themselves unable to staff even their current level of instructional technology support personnel– staffs that need to GROW rather than shrink given our current climate and edtech support needs.

I think it will be more important than ever for districts to look at viable models for professional development and helping teachers effectively utilize instructional technology materials in their curriculum. Looking generally at past experiences, edtech has had a minimal impact on predominant instructional practices in many if not most districts. Why is that? Some would contend a major reason is the low computer to student ratios in schools: every student doesn’t have a device. The assumption now seems to be that if every student has “a device,” this will have a signficant and positive impact on instruction. Maybe that will prove true. My experience has been the role of campus-based facilitators is key to helping teachers learn to “teach differently” and effectively use technology in their instruction. So my personal hope is that these successful models will be highlighted by the new TEA department, and districts will be encouraged (and funded) to follow these models. My reading of the bill text makes it sound like additional support personnel costs could NOT be paid for with tech allotment funds, however, unless the language is changed.

So in its current form, it seems likely HB 4 would be a signficant unfunded mandate for schools, to the extent that vastly more capabilities (from a staffing standpoint) will be required both for tech support and instructional tech support to fulfill its requirements. Stay tuned….

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