January 25, 2012; Source: Chicago Tribune | Technology spending in K-12 education varies widely across the country, as some districts reap the benefits of grants and parental donations, while others tap local, state and federal funding. This lack of consistent and adequate technology spending not only increases the digital divide between students, but also exacerbates a potentially epic failure in training the next generation of U.S. workers.
At the Bronzeville Scholastic Institute in Chicago, nearly a thousand students from the three schools that occupy DuSable High School’s campus on the South Side share 24 computers. Many students cannot afford computers at home and don’t get enough time to use them at school. As a result, Bronzeville Scholastic students born into a digital era struggle with basic skills, such as saving work to a flash drive and setting margins in Microsoft Word.
But the real culprit behind this digital divide is not just a disparity in funding between schools, but a lack of overall investment in technology across the board. This lack of funding isn’t exclusive to Chicago. It’s occurring throughout school districts across the country, but let’s take Chicago as our case study.
Chicago public schools have a budget of $6.6 billion. According to the school system’s annual report, this is comparable to Fortune 500 companies Visa, Yahoo!, and Mattel. The district spends $40 million (or .08 percent) of its annual budget on technology.
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If Chicago public schools operated like a Fortune 500 company, then, according to Gartner Research, the school district would spend about 3.5 percent of its annual budget on IT. Were that the case, the school district’s technology budget would increase to $231 million. In a district that serves 400,000 students, this increase represents an annual boost in spending from $100 per student to $577 per student.
Still probably not enough to do the job. But for K-12 schools, whose primary business is training the next generation of tech-savvy workers, the argument for increased technology funding in the education sector could hardly be more straightforward.
Rather than lamenting the costs associated with new technology aimed at schools, those concerned with the welfare of young people should be taking a hard look at how and how much we invest in technology-focused education. –John Hoffman