Unlike some of the other case study projects that have examined new technologies that are being developed and used in New Orleans, my project focuses on the utilization of existing technology to better the Orleans Parish School system. Following Hurricane Katrina, the public school system in New Orleans was drastically altered in an attempt to improve the undisputedly failing school system. The district shrunk dramatically after 2005: of the roughly 125 schools open prior to the storm, less than 20 were reopened. They were placed under the jurisdiction of the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB).
In 2007, the OPSB got wind that they were about to have a significant amount of money at their disposal. The Title 1 money that had been allocated for the public schools for the previous school year was being pumped back to the school system through the OPSB and the Recovery School District. Of the money granted to the OPSB, $3.6 million had been specifically set aside for the implementation of a district wide technology plan. The OPSB immediately set into action and the IT Department and the Curriculum Construction Department collaborated to build a network. They began by figuring out what they already had in the schools, and were shocked to find that the people on both teams didn’t know first and foremost what the software programs in place did, and who, if anyone was using them. In the end, after roughly three months of deliberation, they decided to make the existing technology package and pilots in place available to the whole district.
In winter of 2007, the technology plan was set into place. The goal of the technology plan was, and continues to be, that “all Orleans Parish School Board educators and learners will benefit from technology-rich environments that promote maximized student achievement and produce life long learners able to succeed in an information society” (Louisiana State Technology Plan). The hope is that through utilizing technology students can receive individual lesson plans that are specifically tailored to their needs, shifting the focus away from the industrial method of teaching.
The initial focus of the project was on hardware and the classrooms. Roughly 70% of the original budget was spent on building infrastructure, and purchasing the hardware necessary for the students to access the technology packages. At this time they also pushed out of the data system into a cloud based system so students could have access to this information anywhere. This aspect of the technology plan was a “technological smash hit” as students in theses OPSB schools now had access to computers and programs that hadn’t been previously available to them. The plan was successful in regards to infrastructure, hardware, and software, but the technology plan faced, and continues to face, countless hardships and shortcomings.
Regardless of all the incredible technology that has been made available to students, teachers, and administrators, utilization of the hardware and programs is disappointingly low. It is extremely difficult to shift the model of instruction away from the industrial model and completely change the classroom environment, regardless of this newfound ability to define each student individually, develop individual instruction plans for each student, and allow each student to drive his or her own learning experience. Teachers are generally dealing with students from low-income families that have behavioral problems and little respect for authority. Often times the main concern of teachers is controlling the classroom and improving test scores, rather than what students are learning. Another huge threat facing the project is a rapidly decreasing budget. The OPBS will never have the same kind of initial funding at their disposal. Although millions of dollars won’t be needed for infrastructure and hardware, a substantial amount of funding is still needed to improve teacher training and professional development, and to manage the technology that has been brought in. It is, as a result, likely that some of the programs will need to be cut back. In order to improve the school system and actually achieve the desired outcome of this technology plan, teachers, administrators, students, and parents, must invest heavily in this new method of teaching and learning, and recognize the incredible long-term benefits that it can bring.