Tom On Point: A means to an important end

Thomas J. Gentzel

In deciding to write a few words about technology -- the focus of this issue of ASBJ -- I also am making a concerted effort not to date myself. I easily could tell tales of blackboards and chalk dust, overhead projectors and mimeograph machines -- yet while they may have represented cutting-edge technology at one time, they have little to do with how education is delivered in America’s public schools today. And that’s really the point. Much has changed, not just in the equipment being used but, more importantly, in how it is assisting the learning process. We are reaching students more effectively, and are able to personalize instruction and monitor progress in ways that previously were unthinkable.

NSBA began its focus on education technology in the late 1980s with the goal of helping school leaders understand the range of options in this growing area of school spending. We learned early on that several factors are especially important in making sound decisions about technology: the support and active engagement of school boards and affected stakeholders, the need for systemic efforts across districts rather than just at the building or classroom level, and a clear line of sight between what was being purchased and how it would be deployed and actually used.

Many districts can recount stories about technology acquisitions that wound up on shelves, having little impact on teaching or student learning. Often, the outlay for capital equipment was not accompanied by an investment in human capital -- that is, training on how to use the equipment and how to incorporate it into effective instruction. Sadly, these experiences sometimes created a sense that technology can be a wasteful and counterproductive expenditure.

School boards have a critical role to play in navigating these waters -- understanding not only what is being proposed for purchase but what it is intended to do. They ensure that the spending on technology is part of a comprehensive plan for the district, engaging all stakeholders, and continuously monitoring results.

Fortunately, school officials have many resources to guide their efforts. NSBA’s publications and Annual Conference are just two means of disseminating best practices. Our site visits, conducted at leading-edge districts across the country, enable school leaders to view effective use of technology in the classroom firsthand. The “20 to Watch” program places a spotlight on innovators who are finding new and exciting ways to enhance education through technology. State school boards associations provide numerous opportunities to learn from colleagues, too. Good decision-making need not be left to chance.

Technology is a means to an important end -- student achievement -- yet decisions about it are complicated not only by the range of options available but also by the culture of modern society. The ubiquity of social media, the internet, and all the innovations and new options that emerge on a daily basis make this one of the most challenging areas of responsibility for local school officials. Increasingly, school boards and superintendents also must wrestle with issues of student privacy, cyberbullying, and so many other consequences of rapidly expanding technology in all its forms. Still, schools are in a better position to help students realize their full potential than at any other time in history. Technology is a critical means of achieving that most important goal, and an exciting opportunity for school boards to make a lasting difference in the lives of children.

Tom Gentzel

Thomas J. Gentzel ( is the Executive Director of NSBA. Follow Gentzel on Twitter @Tom_NSBA
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