When looking at equity issues there are a number of areas to consider: socio-economic, multicultural, special education, and gender.(1)
Socio-economic inequities in the amount of technology in the various schools tends to occur naturally in medium to large school districts. What emerges is a pattern of disparity, resulting in some schools, almost always in the higher socio-economic areas of the community, with a higher level of technology than those schools located in lower socio-economic areas. The "have" schools are generally blessed with parents who are well-educated and understand the importance of technology in the schools. These parent will have considerable influence on school-based budget decision-making. Additionally, these parents are often willing and able to assist with outside fund-raising activities, including donations and grant writing.
In the "have-not" schools, social needs generally drive the budget decisions. Parents tend to be less involved and less willing or able to support the acquisition of technology through outside fund-raising. Social needs demands drive school-based budget decisions.
Obviously, all students deserve the chance to be educated in technology-rich environments. Further, research has clearly demonstrated that technology can assist high needs students in gaining basic skills, greater motivation, and higher self-esteem.
Strategies to address socio-economic inequities include:
Differential analysis of district technological infrastructure data to determine whether socioeconomic disparity exists.
If inequity exists, consider a district-wide distribution of funds strategy that would assist in addressing the inequity, such as special funds for high-needs districts.
Specifically target professional development opportunities for teachers and administrators related to the use of technology for high needs students. This will help to educate and perhaps shift the school funding decisions.
Look for ways to use Title I funds and other special purpose funds to finance technology. There is a natural tendency to continue to do things in the way that they have always been done, rather than to look for new ways to address problems. Research results would suggest that the use of technology with high needs students can be very effective. Districts may wish to initiate some technology-related action research projects with Title I students and use the data to guide the future development of such programs.
Recruit the Chamber of Commerce or other community service organizations, such as Rotary, to adopt high needs schools to assist them in planning and fund-raising around technology.
Establish after-school labs for students to expand their level of access (they likely do not have computers at home) and for parents for computer literacy and other classes.
Establish a loaner program with older equipment that encourages parent and child technology activities.
Work with social service agencies to develop ways to use the school technology to provide electronic access to social service information for high needs parents.
Research data has revealed a lower level of used of technology by some minorities. This issue is in part driven by the socio-economic factors, but other factors that should also be addressed include potential software bias and the lack of technology-using role models.
Strategies to address multicultural inequities include:
Assessment minority student use of technology.
Analysis of software from a multicultural perspective during the curriculum analysis and software acquisition process.
Connect minority students with minority role models both in person and through the Internet.
Direct all students to the positive multicultural materials that are available through the Internet.
Develop technology-related learning activities that allow students to present their own cultural heritage stories.
Special Education Inequity
Assistive technologies are revolutionizing special education by providing special needs students with innovative ways to accommodate their disabilities and expand their abilities. There are three federal laws that relate to access to individuals with disabilities to technology in schools:
The American's with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates equal access for individuals with disabilities. The implications of this Act are that if a disabled students cannot use standard technology that every other student is using to do a task that other students are doing, then the district must, in some manner, provide an equivalent level of access. This requirement is for all students with disabilities, not only special education students.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act has access requirements that are similar to the ADA.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (1997 revision) requires that districts consider the need for technology assistive devices for all special education students during the Individual Education Plan development process. If it is determined that assistive technology is available that would benefit the student, the district has an obligation to provide this technology.
Strategies to address special needs inequities include:
The development of a district-level special education technology plan, that is integrated with the overall technology plan and ongoing planning structures to ensure coordination. There are federal and state funds available for assistive technology. In some cases, the technology could be implemented in a way that would, in addition to addressing a specific student's needs, contribute to the overall development of the district infrastructure. Conversely, if strategies to facilitate the ability of the district to meet the needs of special education students are incorporated into the district's overall technology implementation from the outset, this could result in cost savings to the district. These opportunities will be missed without close coordination.
Professional development opportunities for special education staff and ready access to current information about assistive technologies are critically important to ensure that opportunities are identified, funds are spent wisely, and the technology is used to its highest advantage for the benefit of the students.
Research has revealed that boys and girls tend to perceive technology differently. Boys tend to be most interested in the machine itself and how it can extend their power. Girls tend to focus more on how technology can solve problems and enhance communication. In most schools, a trip to the open computer lab will likely verify that boys tend to gravitate to computers more than girls. District will need to find ways to equalize this imbalance.
Strategies to address gender inequities include:
Assessment of computer usage patterns by gender.
Analysis of how computers can be used instructionally to encourage the natural inclinations of boys and girls, as well as to expand the range of uses.
Connect students with male and female technology-using role models, both in person and through the Internet.
Ensure that computer labs, especially open computer labs, are gender neutral and female friendly. Ask female students what can improve the environment from their perspective.
Require all students to use technology for school assignments, assuming sufficient technology is available.