The cutting edge of classroom tech may not be coming soon to Tulsa Public Schools.
"Even with this bond issue, we're not talking about a lot of fancy stuff. We're talking about getting us up to a basic standard that any school system today should have," said Rodger Randle, co-chair of the committee still deciding whether to recommend a ballot measure to the TPS school board.
"We're not saying a tablet's going to be placed in the hand of every student," Randle said.
The change could still be significant, according to Randle. He described how carts loaded with technology could be rolled into classrooms when needed. Right now, it's hit or miss as far as teachers and students having access to tech tools, he said.
"There may be individual schools that for whatever reason are well ahead of the pack, and in the case of those schools, maybe they won't see that much more. But lots of classrooms have got virtually nothing, or very minimal resources, and so this will raise the guaranteed standard throughout the system," Randle said.
He acknowledged that the committee is "leaning that direction" when it comes to recommending a bond issue, which would result in a property tax increase if it's not offset in other ways. If a bond recommendation is made and approved by the school board, it could appear on a May ballot.
Randle said the committee will make its recommendations, including the size of any bond package, before the end of the month.
Meetings started in January, when Tulsa Public Schools released results of a teacher survey about technology.
It found that nearly 60 percent of teachers described classroom technology as "very important," but almost 40 percent rated the effectiveness of their current technology as below acceptable levels.
"I think teachers do want more technology. They want to know how to be able to use that technology effectively," said Linda Hendrix, an Oklahoma Education Association advocacy specialist working on behalf of the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association.
She said the group, in general, is "all for teachers having the technology."
However, "I don't believe right now we have in place sufficient help for teachers or instruction for teachers who aren't as high tech as the others," Hendrix said, explaining that some teachers feel more comfortable with technology than others.
For all teachers, "we do want them to be able to get the help and support they need if something's not working, or if they don't know how to do something and they need to know how to do that," Hendrix said.
More than 1,300 teachers, principals, and support staff responded to the survey.
Angel Kymes, an assistant professor of educational technology at Oklahoma State University, said she "can't even imagine" that many teachers or school administrators in Oklahoma don't support the idea that having technology in classrooms is critical for students.
Yet districts vary widely in the level of technology in the classroom. Kymes said a lack of money keeps some districts from reaching their technology goals.
"I definitely think that's the biggest barrier in our state, for sure," Kymes said.
Chris Payne, a TPS spokesman, said that the state will soon implement what are known as Common Core State Standards, some of which involve technology.
"One of the requirements is that schools all be able to test students using a computer, and there are a set of standards we are supposed to follow. Given the technology that the district has today, we don't have what we need to meet Common Core standards," Payne said.
In 2010, voters approved a $354 million bond package, but Payne said technology comprised only a small component of that package. Regardless, technology has changed significantly, Payne noted, citing the growing popularity of tablets.
Tracy Gray, managing director at the American Institutes for Research, said districts nationwide have taken different approaches in trying to stay current with technology.
She said there's typically an 18-month life cycle for technology, so, for school districts, "it's really not about the technology," Gray said. "It's about what you're trying to do."
Gray also spoke about the importance of school districts making sure teachers have a support system in place for whatever technology they may be using.
For school districts, "the ones that are doing it successfully are going through a systematic planning process where they're really looking at what type of technology tools they want to buy," as well as including a budget for things like apps for tablets or expensive replacement bulbs for classroom display board technology.
Randle said the committee won't recommend a specific brand of technology, but will put forward ideas about types of technology they would like to see the district invest in.
"We'll have some sort of specifics, because you've got to cost out what's being proposed so it can be put in a bond issue," Randle said, referring to cost estimates for the technology.
He cited two factors in how the board is deciding on those recommendations.
"One is we look around to see what's being used other places," Randle said. The other involves "listening to what teachers in classrooms have to say."
In the survey, 78 percent listed interactive white boards as "extremely necessary" for classroom teachers. Standardized office software (73 percent) and Internet access or upgrades (70 percent) were among other items listed by a majority as being "extremely necessary."
For students, interactive white boards (75 percent), a computer lab (72 percent) and Internet access or upgrades (67 percent) were among items listed as "extremely necessary."
About 52 percent supported tablets as being necessary or "extremely necessary," while about 60 percent did so for laptops and about 75 percent for desktop computers.
"It's also important to recognize that in many ways, we're at the early stages of all of this, not just in Tulsa Public Schools but in schools everywhere. So everybody's still learning what functions well," Randle said, stressing the importance of flexibility to allow for adaptation.
But commitment is the goal, he said.
"What I believe the system is interested in doing now, is willing to do now, is make a major commitment to technological competency," Randle said. That means equipment with training programs, "and really making technology an integrated part of the learning and teaching tools in the Tulsa Public Schools system."
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