Pandemic highlights longtime tech-integration failures for public schools

Technology is sold as a cure-all, but waste and mismanagement erode its use

September 14, 2021 6:08 am

(Getty images)

COVID-19 has reasserted that our schools are completely ill-prepared to equitably use technology in the classroom. 

During my time attending school board meetings — and even in my time in public school — I saw quite a few questionable tech purchases, from lackluster web filters to funding an allegedly fraudulent learning software from the now-infamous former state Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton. This pattern of failed integration and ignorant purchasing habits is nothing new and was made painfully evident when we transitioned to online-only school during the pandemic.

At the start of the pandemic, we needed a move to 100% online and home learning in K-12. This would ordinarily require a device for every student, clear and consistent communication between schools and families, and teachers with a robust knowledge of both Learning Management Systems and Technology Integration. These things take years to set in place and consistent funding to be ubiquitous. As evident in this Source NM article, digital learning is going to be an ongoing conversation and something we can’t just leave behind in our journey back to “normal.”

Here in New Mexico, we are in a situation where we have the funding but refuse to make any effort to equitably integrate technology in our classrooms. In Santa Fe, there are systems in place and paid for that are specifically meant for technology integration, and as a result, Santa Fe Public Schools was in a much better position to get through the pandemic than districts like Albuquerque Public Schools. 

Leaving technology to be a district-specific investment inevitably means that some districts will be left behind. Plus, there’s no guarantee that the districts that do invest in technology are doing so in a way that will be successful.

Technology waste and mismanagement is endemic in our schools, largely because of a disconnect between the administration that curates the technology and how that technology will actually be used in the classroom.

Williams Stapleton didn’t create this problem — it’s been around for decades in New Mexico. But she appears to have capitalized on it, according to investigators. 

More often than not, technology is sold as a cure-all for various educational shortcomings that requires no additional training or support for teachers. What results is the purchasing of expensive products that are tossed into classrooms with little regard to what is developmentally appropriate for students or what teachers are even prepared to use. 

This, in turn, makes teachers apathetic towards learning new technology and quick to abandon it, as it often doesn’t help with their jobs. Take for example the derelict Promethean boards that litter some of our high schools from when I was still in school back in the late 2000s. 

Since silver-bullet technology doesn’t exist, we enter an unsustainable and stagnating cycle that ends with our students being completely ill-prepared for the 21st century. 

The pandemic unveiled two key things in regards to technology integration. First, our education cannot remain stagnant because it is incredibly fragile during a crisis and nigh ineffective when it’s no longer compulsory. Second, we do have the ability to give every student a device and train teachers to better use technology when it becomes a requirement.

With these things in mind, recovery from the loss of classroom time during COVID is possible so long as we are willing to rethink technology as an essential part of the curriculum. In order to better facilitate a better post-pandemic school system, what we need is a bottom-up approach that includes more support for teachers and input from them, and a material examination of what technology should be used and where, in line with curricula. 

It took 30 years for the overhead projector to get from the bowling alley to the classroom, and to this day, they are still used in some classrooms in New Mexico. Until we fully, and equitably, integrate tech into the classroom, the state will continue to be at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to education.

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Verland Coker
Verland Coker

Verland Coker is an activist and former school board candidate based in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Muscogee Nation, and grew up in Albuquerque. He has been a community advocate working with families and students in APS for 3 years and has been independently researching education for the past 8 years. Currently, he works with the Native American Community Academy to help Indigenize mathematics and implement 21st century education.