Last week, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) released its 2015 IT Leadership Survey, detailing the challenges and priorities of K-12 tech administrators. Currently in its third year, the report was created in conjunction with MDR and funded by SchoolDude and is a great resource for anyone wanting a better understanding of the direction of technology on school campuses. Let's take a look at four of the year's biggest revelations.
Data Security is becoming increasingly important
Over half (57%) of those surveyed said they believed data security has become more important over the past year. This shouldn't come as a major surprise. Think back for a second to the closing of inBloom, the Gates funded, cloud-based student information system. While the company was contracted by nine states in 2013, six of those states had ended their contracts by January 2014. The reason? Pushback that alleged a lack of security.
At the time, education historian Diane Ravitch questioned whether the company's practices (which reportedly would have granted data access to firms wishing to market items to children) were tantamount to identity theft. Other advocacy groups like Class Size Matters speculated over external privacy breaches, such as hackers. That concern stemmed from the fact that there are some instances where security breaches have occurred in student data storage, as well as the fact that there is a lot of confusion and uncertainty about a number of new tech software—specifically cloud-based programs.
The fact that data security is becoming increasingly important also means more programs are in place to ideally monitor any breeches. For example, last May, the Obama administration released an 85-page guidance on big data and its use in the U.S. The report called for updates to both FERPA and COPPA as a way to to protect student data. Still, there are many gaps. Last month, the New York Times ran a feature about Tony Porterfield, a father and Cisco engineer who used his computer skills to uncover privacy flaws in digital education products his two sons were assigned to use. Porterfield found that the online reading assessment product one of his sons was supposed to use was not only unencrypted, but stored passwords in plain text. According to the dad, these are two security weaknesses that could allow unauthorized users to access private information.
IT leaders see flatlining budgets as their No. 1 challenge
According to the report, 70% of those surveyed said that their budgets have either plateaued or decreased, and this, they say, is one of their biggest challenges. It is important to point out, however, that while budgets may have gone down, there are methods for remedying this. Take the FCC's e-rate program, for example, which subsidizes the costs of WiFi and broadband in schools. It is also important to consider why tech budgets may have gone down. Often the most expensive part of a technology plan is the purchase of the hardware. Once a school has procured their products, they may not feel like they need as much money to support the use of the tech.
There is a lack of diversity amongst IT leaders
According to the survey, 88% of IT leaders are white. This stat is troubling given the fact that many school systems are seeing minorities become the majority. Two issues arise from this fact. For one, there is the awareness that students learn best from people who look like them, or at least see role models within the school who do. Finding diverse tech teachers and staff is an important step for getting minority students interested in pursuing tech fields.
This issue actually has its own sub-issue: Why are there so few black and Hispanic IT leaders in schools? Overall, there are currently very few minority students getting the opportunities to take part in computer science and tech education. For example, Code.org has reported that only 3,000 black and Hispanic students took the AP Computer Science exam in 2012—a miniscule number compared to the total 3.5 million students who sat for the exam. Slightly more promising is the fact that 46% of IT leaders are female, getting close to a evenly divided male-female demographic, which is something not found among the tech world at large.
Assessment readiness, wireless access, and mobile learning top priorities
With President Barack Obama's ConnectEd initiative, it makes sense that wireless access is so important. The program aims to see high-speed broadband and wireless in 99% of America's schools by 2017. Part of that goal has included working with the FCC to make internet access affordable for schools by modernizing the federal E-rate program. Assessment Readiness also seems like an unsurprising priority, given the number of states and districts that have begun using digital assessments like the PARCC exam. Glitches in testing have, unfortunately, become somewhat commonplace, so protecting against this reality is a much-needed use of time and resources—though some would probably still argue that sticking to paper and pencil would be even better. As for mobile learning, you need only look to Los Angeles to see why that has become a concern to K-12 IT specialists and educators alike.
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