One of the most surprisingly contentious issues over the past year has been technology. Surprising, because investing in something that is driving the future of our economy seems – to us at least – to be such a common sense decision.
We’ve previously noted that Maia Davis – “parent activist,” MCAS founder, and operative for the United Federation of Teachers – has taken an aggressive stance against technology improvements in Montclair schools. We’ve also previously pointed out MCAS’ generally hostile position against technology improvements.
Our assumption is that this is part of their attempt to kill any sort of accountability systems – which is consistent with the efforts that teacher unions have taken nationally. Given that, it’s hardly surprising that MEA and their local proxies like MCAS and Davis would take the same tack.
During these debates, we’ve often heard unsubstantiated claims that the district’s plan is somehow unusual and irresponsible. For example:
Every district in New Jersey was supposed to file a PARCC readiness report with the state on how much additional technology the district needs for the online test. Our superintendent won’t release this report. But she and her finance officer acknowledge that the $1 million in technology purchases for next year is more than the district needs for PARCC.
This is in sharp contrast to some other high-performing districts that are conserving as much funds as they can for classrooms, teaching and student services and protesting the amount they must spend on PARCC technology.
Lot to unpack here, but we’ll start with something simple: The acknowledgement from both sides that this spending isn’t about PARCC. It’s about investing in technology to help our kids learn and compete. That’s what the district is saying here, not that they are just trying to spend a ton of money on PARCC. But of course their opponents aren’t in the least bit interested in – or living in – reality.
That aside, we thought it was important to do some research and pull together some facts, in hopes of spurring a bit more of a fact-based discussion about these issues. The result? Montclair’s level of technology funding really isn’t atypical at all. A number of other school districts nearby have recently approved capital expenditures for technology improvements that are proportionate to Montclair’s. Just a few examples:
- The Jefferson Township BOE approved a $58.9 million budget for 2014-2015. That budget included more than $744,000 in technology investments, including infrastructure improvements and mobile devices for digital learning. (1.3%)
- The Verona BOE approved a $34.9 million budget for 2014-2015. Just a few months earlier, voters approved a $16.6 million school referendum that provided $671,000 in technology funding, including funds to build wireless infrastructure. (1.9%)
- The Waldwick BOE approved a $30.13 million budget for 2014-2015. The budget included $396,00 for improvements to technology infrastructure. (1.3%)
- The Northern Highlands BOE approved a $28.4 million budget for 2014-2015 that devoted $400,000 for technology, including computer hardware and wireless network expansions. (1.4%)
- The Pequannock BOE approved a $36.2 million budget for 2014-2015. The budget allocated $730,000 toward buying laptops, iPads, and desktop computers. (2%)
We could go on, but we won’t.
To put those numbers in context, the Board of School Estimate approved a $116 million budget for the Montclair School District and set aside $1 million for technology improvements. All of the districts mentioned above devoted more than 1% (some closer to 2%) of their budgets to technology improvements. And still Maia Davis and MCAS insist that $1 million of a $116 million budget – just 0.8%! – is too much. If anything, we’re investing at a far lower level than we should be.
All of this is not even considering that a recent technology inventory revealed that technology in Montclair schools lags behind other districts:
When Barry Haines began taking inventory of the Montclair School District’s technology capabilities, he wasn’t sure what to expect.
Haines, who is the district’s new director of technology, has been visiting each of its 11 public schools to examine their computers, software, and online connections.
“It’s a mixed picture,” Haines told The Montclair Times. “Some schools are really technology rich. And some schools don’t have as much.
“Many other districts are ahead of us as far as having parity and equity as far as technology and performing well on the field tests,” he said.
“Montclair is going to have to play a little catch-up.”
And Montclair High School Principal James Earle went on record describing his school’s technology as inadequate:
MHS Principal James Earle said his school’s antiquated technology has been a barrier for some students who are trying to go online to conduct research or prepare classroom presentations, while others bring their own laptops and iPads to class because the school lacks sufficient hardware.
“Our Wifi is not quite as fast as we’d like it to be,” Earle said. “And the bandwidth slows us down because we don’t have enough.
Our students deserve classrooms that are equipped to prepare them to thrive in the 21st century. Maia Davis and MCAS need to stop playing politics our children’s future and cease their misleading campaign against technology.