Douglas Crets

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Giving Credibility to the Shadow Education System

Interview: Reason Foundation’s Lisa Snell on Education Funding

education children technology funding public

Lisa Snell, Director of Education and Child Welfare, The Reason Foundation

Today’s interview with Lisa Snell, Education Director at The Reason Foundation, is in response to comments published yesterday by Aneesh Chopra, the US CTO, about the funding of education technology programs in our nation’s schools. You can read the full article here.

I contacted Ms. Snell to ask her about her thoughts on what all of this might mean at the local level. The ensuing conversation touches on federal initiatives and their effectiveness, empowering local administrators and teachers to be entrepreneurs, and the direction of learning in the 21st Century.

Her interview is after the jump.

Interview

Douglas: Why is there this concern over consolidating EETT and starting other initiatives? Help us understand the context.  Is the government really committed to funding and then implementing ed tech and entrepreneurial changes to the public ed system?

Lisa Snell: From my perspective as a skeptic of the ability of federal funding to direct change in local schools, the real question is can the federal government drive innovation in technology at the local level through federal funding? Is this a priority for scarce education resources? To the extent that the federal government funds multiple technology programs with duplicative costs consolidation of technology programs seems like low-hanging fruit when the federal government must find cost savings in education spending. In addition, some technology programs such as e-rate have serious issues with fraud and this casts doubt on whether these programs are being measured for performance at a basic level. There needs to be a stronger body of evidence that funding technology is the best use of federal dollars in education spending. To the extent that we already spend money on technology at the federal level, we need to consolidate and use these funds more effectively instead of adding additional tax dollars to the technology sector.

Douglas: That’s interesting that you say this, because my next question was going to be, do you think its possible to find cost savings by empowering teachers and local school administrators to be more entrepreneurial and maybe better connected using social media and other online media tools to foster a more 21st Century-like approach to learning?

Lisa Snell: Yes. I think it is better for the maximum amount of funding to be attached to the backs of children: federal, state, and local funding. Then principals, teachers, and parents can make decisions about how to use their resources at the school level including investments in technology–rather than lots of restricted funding streams devoted to categorical programs like technology. This gives teachers the opportunity to innovate with readily available social media and other cost-saving technology that may serve the same exact function as some higher-cost technology that a federal or state funding stream compels the district or local school to invest in. if local schools have the dollars and decision-making power they may decide on certain technology investments. However, right now technology-specific funding directs them to make investments that may or may not be the highest priority for spending resources at the school-level or even the smartest technological investment.

Douglas: If I am understanding this correctly, it seems we have a detachment between what is needed in the “real world” and what the federal mechanism allows local and state and community level to do. So, do you think asking the teachers what they want, or the parents and students what they want is an easy answer to this critical problem?

Lisa Snell: Absolutely, we should empower those closest to the school to find innovate ways to use technology. There is lots of free technology that could be useful. What might a shared Google calendar mean for posting homework assignments on-line for an individual class? We just don’t know how schools might prioritize their technology resources because they currently have little control over any resources at the school level.

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