Reasons Why 94% of U.S. Superintendents are Making Technology Mistakes

In previous columns, I've mentioned how research from Project RED confirmed that 99% of school system technology initiatives fail to meet certain key performance indicators – in other words a sure sign of lackluster failure. I sat on a panel at the 2015 National Conference on Education for the American Association of School Administrators and one telltale sign clearly explained why these leaders were making so many mistakes.

Many leaders lack a comprehensive vision behind their ideas. They may know they want to do 1:1, but ... little thought of pedagogy takes place early in the process.

When the panel asked the audience for a show of hands how many superintendents in the room had even heard of Project RED, only 6% of the room raised their hands. The other 94% hadn't even heard of the organization, nor were aware of any of the research this organization could provide school leaders to help properly envision, plan and adopt their technology initiatives. For that solid majority, they are entering expensive and important initiatives without even being aware of leading research examining trends from over 1,000 past programs.

But to their credit, these superintendents didn't want to make the same mistakes like their peers, and wanted guidance. Many asked about how they inherited a failed 1:1 program from their predecessor (at least one of whom lost their position over the failed program) or how they were completing the first 3-4 year effort with tablets or other devices, and were quite unhappy with the little – if any – academic outcomes to report.

While nearly every attendee for the panel asked to receive the complete Project RED report, our panel did summarize some key reasons why failure plagues so many of these initiatives. We broke these down into three simple areas:

3 Reasons for Failed Educational Technology Initiatives

See no evil

Many leaders lack a comprehensive vision behind their ideas. They may know they want to do 1:1, but overall the vision is just a nice video produced by a technology vendor. Little thought of pedagogy takes place early in the process, and often by the time it does, curriculum choices are being restrained by technology choices. Ideally technology needs to adapt to the curriculum decisions. Further, the vision lacks a sustainable model, relying on quick fads to get devices. Whether financially troubled models like one-time bond levies, short term grants or other social-economic and security issues like BYOD, such decisions often hamper long term efforts and last only a few years.

Hear no evil

Many leaders fail to strategically listen to experts and stakeholders during the process. Among them, we've found few school systems actually engage an independent consultant, heavily experienced in 1:1 initiatives, to understand and help plan for all problems likely to be encountered. Often, group-think mentality exists in the district. On several recent occasions, including more high profile districts, senior level officials were clearly aware of flaws in their proposed planning process, but were unwilling or even afraid to voice conflicting opinions to the superintendent. The most effective leaders are those that not only embrace consenting opinions….they actually encourage it. Lastly, school officials don’t listen to the concerns of their faculty, helping them address the two greatest concerned they have – the fear of time to implement technology-rich, project-based learning environments, and the fear of failure and how it will be treated by administrators.

Speak no evil

Among the many issues that impact schools upon execution is the lack of a change management plan, and an expertise in this particular area. Transforming educators from a lecture-based environment to a flipped classroom doesn’t happen with the flip of a switch. It is a transformation process that occurs over time. With such heavy financial investments in the technology initiative, schools often under-engage with all stakeholders to share the plan and ongoing updates to confirm the money has been invested wisely. Once the devices are distributed and the pretty photo opportunity is gone, many schools believe their PR duties are completed, when it fact they have barely begun. Unlike a construction project, the community cannot see the progress of a large device purchase. Showing the ROI comes from the benchmarks and progress your officials established during the planning stage – but as I've already mentioned, too many of the plans are so light or ambiguous in this area they are unable to satisfy the expectations the community has for this investment.

In the end, how do school leaders want their tenure remembered? Will it be for a challenging, but rewarding transformation of the school system, or will it be an expensive bungling purchase of hardware? The choice is entirely up to you and your team. Access the Project RED data, engage with established experts and change your conversations from cute devices to meaningful outcomes. You’ll be glad you did.


Elliott Levine is Americas Education Strategist for Hewlett Packard. There he works with schools and universities to support major educational technology initiatives and was co-inventor of the HP Personal Learning Engine (US PTO PCT/US2013/062777), an effort that has him featured as one of three employees at www.hp.com/go/jobs. He holds a Masters in Communication and Performance Studies from Hofstra University, where he was also an adjunct professor. A former K-12 official and regular public speaker, he has worked for and launched startups in the education and marketing industries. You can learn more about him at www.linkedin.com/in/elliottlevine/.

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