Getting Schools Technologically Ready for Common Core
KOSU’s Common Core weeklong series continues with an examination of the technology demands prompted by the new standards. Yesterday, KOSU’s Ben Allen looked at how textbooks will be changing. Still to come, a look at the tests, the challenges rural school districts face compared to metro districts, and what Common Core means day to day in the classroom.
In today’s day and age it’s hard to imagine getting by without technology and it’s just as true in the world of education.
It gets even more important as Oklahoma moves into the era of Common Core a set of more rigorous standards to better prepare students for college and careers of the 21st century
As these students prepare for their futures they should be learning the tools they’ll be expected to work with.
Oklahoma’s Chief Information Officer Alex Pettit admits handling I.T. for the State Department of Education starts with bandwidth.
State leaders spent the past couple years working on the issue and eventually created a broadband initiative known as OCAN, the Oklahoma Community Anchor Network with the help of a federal grant
Pettit proudly pulls out a map to show me.
Before the new network was installed, many rural Oklahoma school districts had marginal Internet access at best.
Now, rural Internet providers can use it to provide better access for schools.
“A lot of regional, more local providers of connectivity sources will be able to get to the backbone fiber and offer a service that simply wasn’t available to them.”
But connectivity isn’t the only issue facing districts.
Even ones like Oklahoma City face serious challenges, but those have more to do with the number of students than the geographic location of the school.
“I think that in some places that are in our near major metropolitan areas that bandwidth won’t be as big of an issue it will be just a matter of getting the equipment distributed so they have a good ratio of student to device.”
Eric Hileman is the executive director of information technology for Oklahoma City Public schools.
The major issue for him: equipment.
And it’s not necessarily about how many computers per child; it’s about how old that technology is.
Oklahoma City had a bond issue in 2007 for new equipment which is now out of date.
Hileman says technology requires a four to five year refresh cycle to replace equipment according to something called Moore’s Law.
“Moore’s law states that in every 24 months that the capacity doubles and the price either stays the same or decreases so in four or five years that computer is old by new standards.”
To put that into perspective five years ago I-Pads didn’t exist, mini-notebooks were the new thing and Windows computers still ran on Vista!
So if a new program gets created just to deal with Common Core standards the old computers might not even be able to run it.
To tackle this problem Oklahoma City is getting ready for another bond vote totaling $22.5 million just for student technology needs.
As for rural schools needing technology, Hileman says he’s talked to his counterparts in other areas of the state who are creating I.T. purchasing consortia with other districts.
“You have like the Osage County local consortium, McCurtain County in a local cooperative been doing that for a very long time. There are six or seven board-approved local consortia that can leverage that purchasing power.”
So is the state ready for any new technology needs when it comes to the Common Core Standards?
State Superintendent Janet Barresi worries it might not be.
And, Barresi says it goes beyond just the needs for testing.
“We’re also not ready for digital learning. The requirements for digital learning, the speed for digital learning is much greater than what the children need for assessments.”
Digital learning allows a child interested in a subject like statistics which might not be offered in the local school to take the class online while still conforming to the Common Core standards.
And the issue in the rural areas still appears to be less of equipment and more of bandwidth.
Barresi recalls talking to a rural superintendent who got 20 I-Pads for his 80 students and couldn’t use them.
“He said so I contacted our vendor and got an estimate of $500,000 to tunnel I think he said the ten miles needed to get to the site. He said that’s over half of my yearly allocation.”
Barresi says she hopes to find some way to get additional funding for these issues.
She says in February nearly all Oklahoma schools participated in a speed test for their connectivity and only 9% had adequate bandwidth and equipment.
But, that was before the installation of additional bandwidth through the Oklahoma Community Anchor Network which now includes 35 counties across the state and includes 33 “community anchors”.
With the Common Core standards taking full effect in exactly one year maybe only time will tell if the state has enough bandwidth to get all its students online.
And, it’s unclear yet whether the computers will even be up to date to deal with testing and online educational needs by the 2014-2015 school year.