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Do a Google search on “cash-strapped school districts,” and hundreds of thousands of stories appear. For instance, in June Chicago Public Schools was looking to borrow $200 million dollars and open a line of credit for an additional billion dollars. That same month, Flint School District in Michigan—facing a deficit of $21.9 million dollars—planned to lay off 55 teachers.
Sadly, these stories are just the top two. Districts are being asked to raise test scores without spending more money, and many are being forced to cut staff and programs.
In a lot of instances, however, technology can help. Here are five different ways districts are using technology to cut costs or stretch their teaching staff.
1. Start a blended learning program.
Blended learning, which mixes up traditional teaching with online lessons, is one way in which districts are reaching more students with fewer teachers. According to an edSurge article, Oakland Unified School District in California has moved toward blended learning to help solve its teacher shortage of more than 70 vacant positions. Cincinnati Public Schools has also launched a blended learning program.
Students use online Google Apps for Education, Apex Learning, ALEKS, and other tools for individualized lessons, and teachers use the same tools to collect data that helps them make more informed decisions. Some experts that that charter organizations like Rocketship and KIPP, which have used blended learning to serve more students with fewer teachings, can help California, which has over 21,000 teaching vacancies this year.
In the edSurge article, Beth Rabbitt of The Learning Accelerator (a nonprofit that helps schools implement blended learning), says, “I do absolutely think blended learning is an answer to our teacher pipeline problem.” She adds that blended learning does not mean replacing teaching with technology and that districts transitioning to blended learning may need more staff to help with the implementation process. Rabbitt and her colleagues believe that blended learning will save money as districts replace costly textbooks and traditional instructional materials with software.
2. Embrace BYOT/BYOD.
We all know that going 1-to1 is expensive. That’s why more and more districts are turning to Bring Your Own Technology/Device to bring the costs down. As long as the curriculum and classwork is cloud-based, students can access the learning materials via any device. And when children supply their devices, your technology staff isn’t responsible for maintenance. BYOT Network is a great blog about the benefits of using personalized technology, written by the former coordinator of instructional technology for Forsyth County Schools in Georgia, one of the first districts to implement BYOT.
3. Choose open.
From open-source operating systems (OS) and software to open educator resources (OER), there are plenty of options that can save districts money. An article on Mind/Shift called “Why Aren’t More Schools Using Free, Open Tools?” tells of a Pennsylvania district that outfitted laptops with Ubuntu, an open OS, and saved the district $360,000 in one year. Although people believe open-source systems are difficult to use and support, this district says that’s not true, and cites the open-source community as an invaluable resource. As for OER, or free teaching and learning materials, sites like the OER Commons offers more than 50,000 vetted and indexed lessons that teachers can modify and adapt as needed.
4. Kiss your printer goodbye.
Go green! Many paper and printing expenses can be reduced with a cloud-based system that serves as a paper trail and encourages students, teachers, and administrators to collaborate and communicate more effectively. Run your Board meetings online and ask people to download materials to their smartphones. Challenge your teachers to turn paper handouts into online documents to post on a blog or upload to the learning management system. English/language arts teachers can even make comments on student writing in a collaborative program like Google Docs. But remember: you’ll need to have reliable connectivity both in school and at home for these innovations to truly work.
5. Buy used.
Companies like CDI and Mac to School sell refurbished desktops, laptops, servers, tablets, and more, helping districts get a whole lot of technology at a much lower price point. A middle school in Los Angeles, California, would have paid more than $85,000 to buy new technology directly from Apple but spent only $33,000 via Mac to School’s refurbished tMacBooks and iMacs.