In looking at schools and technology from a systems perspective, I always try to remember that a school system is a sub-system of our broader society. When you filter things this way, you realize that there are a number of major societal forces converging on our school systems today. You have to leverage these positively if you want technology to work successfully in classrooms.

Let’s examine several of these societal forces:

·  Changing Demography – We are becoming a nation of color, and some school districts have over 100 languages. Diversity is increasingly the norm, and schools need to clearly reflect this in every way.

·  Global and Economic Transformation – There are over 7 billion people on the planet and 80 percent do not speak English. Or, put another way, 25 percent of Apple’s customers are from China. How do we prepare our workforce to deal with this?

·  Increasing Expectations – No matter which ideology you support, there are now standards for learning. And we are gradually standardizing these expectations. Schools must adapt.

·  Accountability – Equity is a big agenda item today, and schools and teachers are increasingly being held accountable for results. It’s no longer universal access to education that we’re after, but, rather, universal success in the classroom.

·  Technology – This variable is driving and accelerating the forces listed above, no matter where your school is located.

Since technology is such a critical ingredient in the mix, let’s look at what it takes to implant high-performing digital solutions in the classroom, and, when I say “implant,” I mean in a sustainable way.

First and foremost, a school district has to have a broadband backbone. Without this, you can have the best teachers, lots of laptops and terrific curriculum, but it’s just not enough. You must have devices, content and the right Internet connectivity, or it’s just not going to work for students.

Second, you need leadership – and aligned leadership – at the school board and central office levels. This helps you avoid all the distractions, politics, policy shifts, budget cuts and contract issues that so often get in the way when you’re trying to install technology in classrooms. The key here is to remain focused at a sustained systems level.

Third, you need the support of the community in order to make an educational technology initiative work. When I served in a school district outside Seattle, for example, voters banded together and approved a local levy that supported classroom technology expenditures.

Fourth, to support and sustain technology initiatives in a school district, I’ve found that partnerships – both big and small – with civic organizations and technology companies are an absolute must. As educators, we simply can’t create rich and lasting digital change on our own.

Fifth, technology will never become a widespread and sustained reality in a school district unless there is infrastructure support from other functions like HR and finance, which have already deployed highly operable technology systems.

Finally, once you’ve trained teachers and administrators on the new technology, you have to be prepared to adapt. That means refreshing your classroom technology every four years or so or you will have to constantly re-invest; that’s not efficient or effective.

Technology can help students travel to many new and exciting learning places; but, after helping to digitize thousands of classrooms, I really believe that embracing a holistic systems approach is the only way to make this knowledge journey meaningful and sustainable for legions of young people everywhere.

Dr. Edward Lee Vargas

Executive Vice President, AVID Center

Dr. Edward Lee Vargas is an Executive Vice President at the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) Center. AVID is a non-profit, proven college readiness system that closes the achievement gap. It is implemented in approximately 5,000 schools in 45 states, the District of Columbia and 16 countries / territories, and it impacts more than 700,000 students in grades K–12 and 41 post-secondary institutions. Dr. Vargas has served as superintendent in large urban school districts in California, New Mexico, Texas and Washington. He was honored as State Superintendent of the Year in California (2006) and Washington (2014). After being named Superintendent of the Year in California, he was recruited by the Stupski Foundation as a “Superintendent in Residence,” where he coached other system leaders around the country until his appointment to the Kent School District, located in the Seattle metropolitan area, in 2009. In Kent, Dr. Vargas is widely regarded as a critical part of the district’s success in improving test scores, increasing graduation rates, advancing technological integration and increasing parent and community engagement. He received his Master’s degree from the University of New Mexico in Educational Diagnosis and a doctorate from the University of Washington in Leadership and Policy.