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Technology Plan Critique

District Technology plan for Bellingham, Washington

The District of Bellingham Washington technology plan is, overall, well written, and most importantly, focused on learning. There were, however, several very troubling issues that were obvious given the plan’s overall general quality.

Of the nine major areas recommended for inclusion in a technology plan by Sibley & Kimball, Bellingham, WA has a major problem right off the bat. The district level plan made no mention, not one word, of compliance with the federal regulations for obtaining e-rate funding for its telecommunications. It may be that the district is so wealthy they do not qualify or do not need federal funds, however, it seems a glaring omission. You can never be too rich, or so the cliché says. I would have thought a district level technology plan would mention the e-rate status, if only as a disclaimer; as in “We reviewed our status vís a vís e-rate funding regulations and found the district does not qualify...” There was no such disclaimer or mention. There are some vague mentions of ‘established criteria for state approval’ but even those are not clearly explained. Another immediate red-flag was no mention of compliance with  the Children’s Internet Protections Act, or C.I.P.A. With the emphasis many districts place on safety and network control, no mention of the act was a glaring omission. The plan does mention the ethical use of the technology, but indication of compliance with federal law seems a must for a district level plan.

In the area of needs assessment the Bellingham plan was heavily reliant on self-assessment by the various buildings within the district, as well as surveys. There seemed to be no independent assessment or expert assessment of the district’s needs. Nor does the plan contain the results of the assessment. Without reporting the findings of these assessments, the plan describes strategies for future assessments, particularly in the area of staff development, that sound excellent. However, for someone outside the district, there is no factual data with which to assess the viability of the plan in this area. For example, the plans says students will be assessed in the area of technology competence once in elementary school, once in middle school, and once in high school; but nowhere does it report the results of the preliminary assessment, providing a technologist with the ‘jumping off point’ from which to begin evaluating how successful previous plans have been and what future needs might be based on those results.

The IT portion of the assessment, was. well… non existent. The plan mentions “Network and Telecommunications Plan” but the plan itself was missing from the packet so there was no way to evaluate it. The lack of an evaluation of the information technology infrastructure plan isa glaring hole in the evaluation. If there is no information technology evaluation, how can anyone make a vlid, fact-based judgement on a technology plan?

In the area of professional development, the plan showed sound strategies, a comprehensive evaluation process, and good, broad based support for the training teachers and other technology leaders within the district might need. It seems that the district technology plan is really the district technology staff  development plan. It seems fairly clear that staff development and teacher training is the focus of this plan, in some ways to the exclusion of other, equally critical aspects.

In outlining an effective evaluation strategy of the training items proposed, the Bellingham plan is sound and comprehensive, providing critical detail lacking in many of the other aspects of the plan. The plan is detailed and specifies who will be trained, who will do the assessments, and how these things will be accomplished. The only glaring flaw in this area is mention of an outside objective evaluator to act as an auditor for the district.

How the district intends to pay for the elements of the plan in the area of staff development is comprehensive and well thought out. Grants, budgeted funds, and other sources of funding are outlined nicely. In the area of infrastructure, the plan mentions briefly “equipment” in the budget section of the plan. Again, these elements may be referenced in the Telecom and Network plan, but that was not attached. Even so, given the vagueness of the references, without specifics on actual dollars, there has to be concern for any educator reading the plan as to whether this is a real plan or pipe dream. The plan’s cover letter says the district will ‘support’ the plan with funding, but again, specifics are lacking.

As previously mentioned, the one area of the Bellingham plan that is robust from top to bottom is staff development. The plan offers a comprehensive, detailed discussion of the plans for developing a staff proficient in teaching technology. The plan describes  the training, the support for the training, and how it will be funded. The educators within the district have plainly been consulted, and the concepts for teacher leaders and media specialists as development coordinators; as well as peer to peer learning show good foresight and offer a model that is used successfully in other districts.

What the plan does not adequately address is what the district is doing now, how well it is doing it, and why the preparers of this plan think so. Nor does it address the format the future evaluations will take, other than a loosely defined series of self-assessments. It is my qualified opinion that the lack of the involvement of a qualified technology auditor, so to speak, that is an out of district evaluator, capable of reviewing the practices used and the assessments themselves makes this plan, for all of its good points, fundamentally flawed.

The one area in which this plan can be unconditionally complimented is its focus on learning. In each phase, students are smack dab in the middle of the process, with their needs and the expectations clearly in the forefront of the hopes, goals, and expectations of the teachers, administrators and technology planners. The grade level planning was missing, but it may be that this aspect of the plan is administered on a building by building basis. Clearly plans for evaluating students three times, once at each level of learning during their K-12 experience, showed that grade level learning is in the minds of the planers, even if only tangentially.

Overall, I would grade the Bellingham Washington School District Plan a C+ or a B-. The plan shows a broad based support from all levels of teachers and administrators, excellent input from teachers themselves, though it would have been nice to see the assessments of the students themselves regarding the current state of technology in their district. The plan shows clear evidence that it was not compiled in the server closet, but is a collaborative document that will be well supported by the district’s teaching faculty. In selecting this grade I am giving the plan the benefit of the doubt regarding the contents of the “Network and Telecommunications Plan” which I was not able to access. I am making a qualified assumption that the contents of that plan will be on par with the contents of the plan I was able to review in detail. If that should prove not to be the case, and Network and Telecommunications plan is in fact a mirage, then the overall grade of the plan would plummet to a ‘D’ for failure to provide essential infrastructure planning.

In seeking out the good in this plan, it is clear that the preparers do view the technology plan as a “living document” that must evolve and change as the needs of the district and its students evolve and change. The Bellingham plan shows that its preparers understand that the use of it depends on the cycle of assessment, formulation, implementation and a return to assessment. I would be leery of attempting to use this document as written to actually implement technology on a district wide basis because of an over dependence on self-assessment, lack of detail on funding and current technology status, as well as the missing information on compliance with federal law. While the plan’s foundations are rooted in a solid methodology and a core belief in the use of technology in the service of learning; the lack of detail in a number of critical areas acts as a defacto limit on the eventual achievement of the stated learning objectives.