As a former Chicago Public School teacher, I still have an interest in school reform and best practices related to urban education. The Catalyst is a great source of information here in Chicago, and I hate to criticize it, but this series of articles on technology could have been better on analysis and investigation. Of course, I think the two pieces related to the U of C charter schools are decent as another ADE is involved with that project, but hey, I admit I am biased.
In one article entitled, "Winning the Race - at First Glance", Harper High School is profiled. Recently, this school was offered up to Oprah show viewers as an example of the many schools dealing with inequities as the result of school funding issues. The author of this article says that Harper appears to be winning the technology race superficially. Since when has there been a race to accumulate machines in schools? Do the actual number of computers in a school correlated to an improvement in student performance? And, the number of computers per pupil is cited in this article in relation to national statistics (which came from a study conducted in 2003. See David Warlick's post on this.) In my opinion, a plethora of technology is not going to make one iota of difference in a school unless they are used in an engaging manner and teachers have some experience integrating technology into their subject matter.
Chicago high schools are also lauded for having ethernet connections and A (read one) full time tech coordinator in 62% of CPS high schools. Assuming that your average high school has over a thousand students, one tech coordinator in a school is not going to be particularly effective. I'm guessing that many of these tech coordinators solely are responsible for staff development, network administration, and instructional support. Frankly, I am not impressed with the numbers cited in this article, given the realities that are also outlined... lack of maintenance, lack of access, and lack of staff development. However, you would be led into thinking that CPS was on the cutting edge of urban school educational technology if you read the second article....
A second article was, "Equity the Goal for Technology" and one fact cited item is that a CPS school is sitting on Accelerated Reader software because the school doesn't have time to deploy and train the teachers. My former school used AR, and I don't recall that it was so complicated that it warranted a great deal of professional development time. And, why are schools bothering to purchase expensive software that they don't have the time or inclination to really use? Why isn't professional development time adding into their technology budget?
As far as the reporting goes in the aforementioned article, there is only a brief mention of the Chicago Board of Educaton's Tech|XL computer leasing program which offers internet connections and tech support at a cost to individual schools. Last I heard, these services don't come cheaply, and I would have liked to have seen some explanation of this program. And... since they were talking technology in this article, why wasn't the expensive student information system the board is currently implementing discussed? I don't know much about this, but I do know that there's been some controversy involved. Maybe if there was more information available on these two programs, people, such as myself, would not rush to judgment. I also had a problem with two comments from one national ed tech leader, one that CPS had vision regarding a lot of the tech related issues plaguing urban districts, and that Chicago was a leader in online training. That very well may be the case, and I am in no position to dispute that, but let's not airbrush reality here. No matter how much training in isolation or number of computers in isolation are presented to these schools, these bandaids are not going to bridge the digital divide. All schools, urban or otherwise, must have equipment, student and teacher access, technical support, and pedagogical support working together in unison. Finally, this graphic from the Catalyst based on their survey of a couple hundred schools interested and slightly alarmed me. There is so much more to educational techology than the software mentioned here. Effective educational technology is not about PowerPoint slideshows or graphing data in Excel; it's about process and communication that happens when students are deeply engaged in meaningful work. When are educators going to get this? It's not about the software!