Avoiding the ‘Recipe for Disaster’ in Ed Tech Plans

Q and A with Alberto M. Carvalho, Superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools

MIAMI, Fla. — Every school in the Miami-Dade County Public School system – nearly 400 buildings – is wired with Wi-Fi.

The nation’s fourth largest school district, with about 355,000 students, also revved up bandwidth to ensure that schools had enough speed as more students and teachers went online. District leaders purchased new devices and digital curricular content to use in the classroom. They are now well ahead of President Obama’s goal to modernize connectivity in every public school by 2018.

But the work in Miami-Dade school system is not done.

“Simply put, digital content and the access to a Wi-Fi and a technologically advanced environment is not there to replace good teaching or good teachers,” said Alberto M. Carvalho, superintendent of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

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The Hechinger Report caught up with Carvalho last week in Miami Beach, Fla. Here are excerpts from the interview.

Question: Why was it important to update schools with technology?

Answer: In today’s day and age, digital content, digital accessibility is key to learning. It is the way young people today inform themselves, the way they entertain themselves, and, if they have access to it, the way they educate themselves. Digital content can accelerate and remediate simultaneously. If you were born into a hyper-connected environment where your parents have all the devices, a home that has Wi-Fi with nurturing digital content that supports the intellectual development of the child in socially acceptable environment — then that child’s lacking nothing. But there are children without this at home, and the only time that they will engage will be when they register for kindergarten. Just think about that.

Q: Tell me about your district’s plan for technology upgrades.

A: It’s like the A, B, C’s. We first made decisions regarding A, the applications and digital content. For B, we ensured bandwidth adequacy. C, we ensured connectivity by connecting all schools to Wi-Fi, and, by the way, we did that in the middle of the recession by leveraging a match to the federal e-rate program, so we’ve fund-raised $7 million to bring in a $70 million match. After that — after we made those critical decisions – then we made decisions about devices. This year, we have already placed 50,000 devices in the hands of students, but we’ve procured 150,000 devices.

Q: Teachers have shared planning time each day in the blended learning in middle school math program. Why?

A: To master and to really maximize the asset of digital content, there has to be sufficient professional-development time – and this is commonly ignored. And there has to be sufficient common planning time for the teachers to collaborate — on the use of the environment, on the use of the technology, on the use of the content. A factor that’s often ignored, and this was the Achilles heel in the digital convergence in Los Angeles County, is they left out the critically important human skill-set development. You buy the device. You buy minimal content. You put it in the hands of kids and teachers, but it’s not aligned. It’s insufficient, and the teachers were never trained on how to use it. That’s a recipe for disaster. That’s why here we invest in professional development. You need to have that training as a constant thing – not just a one-shot injection. It needs to be ongoing throughout the school year. You need to have formed a time to actually common plan.

[Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

Nichole Dobo

Nichole Dobo writes about blended learning. Most of her 10-year career as a reporter has focused on education. She has also covered stories about government, courts, business and religion. She was a staff writer at The News Journal in Wilmington, Del., The York Daily Record/Sunday News in York, Pa., The Times-Tribune in Scranton, Pa. and The Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. and has been published in The Atlantic's online edition. She won first prize and best of show for education writing in 2011 from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association. She earned a B.A. in journalism at the Pennsylvania State University.