Probably the most learning I’ve done since I hit the road full time almost two years ago now (dang…has it really been that long?) is around how diverse individual districts are in this country when it comes to access to technology, having a vision for its use, and understanding the transformative nature of what the Web is offering these days. And I’m not talking so much here about the real inner city schools that are struggling mightily just to make AYP. I’m talking about schools that “pass the test” so to speak. A couple of districts that I’ve worked with in recent months provide representative examples:

The first district is in a middle class suburb of a major city that serves about 6,000 students. Teachers and students have very limited access to technology. There is one LCD projector per school in the lower grades, computer labs are being disbanded to provide at least one station per classroom, and Internet service is not much better than dial up. (There is limited wireless.) In the last seven years, exactly zero dollars have been allocated for administrative professional development, and technology budgets have been capped at 1987 levels. A new administration is trying to start some conversations about technology, and the group I met with for a day was interested and worked hard to grasp the ideas and the tools, though many were reaching for the Advil before it was all over. (By the way, two of the administrators who were supposed to be at the session, however, took personal days rather than attend what I assume they felt would be a waste of their time. Oy.)

The second district is in an upper middle class suburb of a different major city and serves a much smaller K-8 population. Here, technology is ubiquitous. Every teacher has a MacBook as do all students 4th through 8th. The superintendent has a plan for technology integration that, despite feeling like he’d gotten “a wake-up call” the day I was there, calls for the deep integration of collaborative tools into the curriculum. The teacher workshops were filled with probing questions, creative ideas and conversation. It was a very different place, and it was a place where I just had the sense that technology was becoming simply a way they do their business. (Yet, here’s the rub: kids move from this district to a high school where there are no laptops and where an “anti-technology” faction in the community holds sway over much of what the school board does. Oy.)

These types of contrasts are everywhere I go and what I find most striking about all of this. There is just so much inconsistency from district to district, place to place. It’s really unsettling on some level to see the vast disparity that our kids have to deal with.

All of this, of course, is framed in the EduCon weekend sense where we saw something that I think most of us would agree we want for our own kids yet don’t quite know how to make happen in our own places. And I talked about this with Chris and Gary for over an hour right after the Sunday morning panel. What are the things that SLA does that are replicable? What needs to be in place for systemic cultural change to occur? I tried to use the domino metaphor (apparently without much success) as in what does the first domino have to be that tips all of the others? And what is the second domino and the third? If we had to create a general roadmap for change, a recipe of some type, I think we could probably do a good job of identifying the ingredients (and technology would be down the list.) But what would be the order? Is there one?

My own impression after visiting hundreds of schools is that the first, key ingredient is leadership, that nothing happens without someone who can inspire serious conversations about what can be, regardless of the roadblocks. (Yes, read Chris Lehmann.) But what after that? Money? Autonomy? Parental support? Technology?

I know that, as is my wont, I may be grasping for something that by it’s very nature resists a clear process. I’m also sure much has been written on this that maybe I haven’t read yet. (Links please.) Maybe we need a wiki…

(Photo: “School’s out for Summer!” by Conspirator.)

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