Cleaning out her basement, my mom recently came across a scrapbook containing this article from April 1981, when I was in first grade at Cragmont School, and my mom was a parent volunteer. She was, I believe, the first educator to bring computers into Berkeley public school classrooms.
The article, which notes that computer literacy is “an important skill in the 1980s,” is striking to me. There are more computers in the District now, of course, but I am not convinced that most kids’ elementary school classroom experience is being enhanced by technology to a significantly greater extent than mine was as a Berkeley student thirty years ago.
Thanks to our local special tax (BSEP), we have a dedicated annual budget for technology in Berkeley, but it is limited. Very little money from the District’s general fund is spent on technology; the teachers, classified support staff, and the technology itself are all stretched thin, even with BSEP funds and the generous support of the Berkeley Public Schools Fund. There are islands of exciting innovation across the District, in some schools and in some classrooms, and the District has used one-time funds to temporarily add one more teacher on special assignment to support all schools with the use of technology and the new Common Core standards. But as this District document makes clear, the use of technology varies widely from school to school across the city.
I would like to see us evaluate what we are doing well with respect to technology, and how we could improve. We should study whether best practices from other districts can provide models for technology instruction that we may want to adapt and implement, and whether doing so will require a greater expenditure of resources from the District’s general fund. With the new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) on the horizon, now is the time to consider whether there is more we can be doing with technology, particularly if it can be used to support teachers in their efforts to boost the achievement of English Learners and children from lower-income families. The community input that is a key component of the LCFF process provides a perfect opportunity for parents, teachers, classified staff, and administrators to engage with each other about the potential for technology in our schools.
In addition, as I learned recently, some members of the District’s “Technology Subcommittee” are proposing that the District commission a study, perhaps to be conducted (at no cost) by grad students at U.C. Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. In general, I am a huge proponent of taking advantage of the research capabilities of our neighbors on the U.C. campus; our new superintendent, Dr. Evans, speaks often about capitalizing on this infrequently-tapped resource. Doing so now — to assess where we are and where we could be with respect to technology (or at the very least to research best practices from similarly situated districts) — seems like an easy call to me.