“Where's the Beef” When It Comes to Your Tech Investments?

One of the most memorable ad tag lines of the 1980s, when Wendy’s introduced actress Clara Peller in the memorable 1984 commercial. Other burger chains sure had visually appealing buns, but when you look inside, the results were quite different. The same holds true 30 years later. Classrooms might look pretty being filled with all of this technology, but at the end of the day, parents, board of education members or your community is going to ask you “Where’s the Beef?”

Just because your school has chosen to adopt one to one, doesn't mean you’ll have much success. In fact, the majority of projects result in little to no meaningful results.

But why?

Project Red, a nonprofit dedicated to the best practices in one to one learning, studied over one thousand such projects. When schools just buy a lot of printers and devices, they may see some modest reductions in disciplinary issues and dropout rates, but only a properly implemented program delivers significant reductions and dramatic increases in high stakes testing and graduation rates.

It’s important to note that schools that just buy devices saw test scores increase from 69% to 70%.....almost non-existent. In those instances, their investment yields virtually nothing. But only with a proper plan do schools see that increase to 90%. According to the Project Red team, only about 1% of one-to-one programs meet certain key performance indicators to be considered "properly implemented."

The biggest problem with this? Most school officials can’t tell the difference between all 1:1 programs and those that have been properly implemented. They seemed almost surprised to know that ProjectRED has a road map of the 1,500 decisions, in order, a school must make to ensure the greatest likelihood of success. Then again, I’m equally surprised that many education technology companies aren't aware either.

Huntsville City Schools is a prime example of getting it right. Not only did they make the investment of dollars for the technology (one could argue spending money is the easiest part of the program), but they also made the investment in planning, curriculum and in teacher preparation to make it work. Changes were made to the overall curriculum. Professional development days for faculty are measured in the dozens, not one or two like so many districts. Budgets were reallocated to embrace the savings potential from a digital model, to make the actual implementation cost of the program negligible to the school system.

Other districts are also starting down this path. Houston, Baltimore County and Miami-Dade are all undertaking major 1:1 efforts. Each is making critical decisions in advance to move the needle academically. Houston has made an effort to showcase their critical decisions to the public, recognizing the importance of stakeholder communications to the success of any program. Miami made a very sound decision to initially postpone launch of their program in order to ensure their plan, once adopted, had the greatest chance for success. Baltimore has partnered with a major university to independently report on the effectiveness of their program. Each of these districts has demonstrated their leadership vs. other school systems that focus on buying hardware and little else.

We all want positive outcomes for our students. But proper planning and strong partners will make the difference between the “hero” or the “zero.”

Elliott Levine is Americas Education Strategist for Hewlett Packard. There he works with schools and universities to support major educational technology initiatives and was co-inventor of the HP Personal Learning Engine (US PTO PCT/US2013/062777), an effort that has him featured as one of three employees at www.hp.com/go/jobs. He holds a Masters in Communication and Performance Studies from Hofstra University, where he was also an adjunct professor. A former K-12 official and regular public speaker, he has worked for and launched startups in the education and marketing industries. You can learn more about him at www.linkedin.com/in/elliottlevine/. 


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