Post-pandemic edtech preparedness
A comparative analysis of public school districts’ education technology plans
March 11, 2024
The following article was written by Jaclyn Caballero and Devery J. Rodgers.
During the pandemic, the safer-at-home order put a spotlight on various aspects of the digital divide. Some of these are inequitable access to technology, unequal funds of knowledge and the quality of virtual instruction. In an August 2020 report, Darling-Hammond, Schachner, and Edgerton suggest that in order to close academic achievement gaps, the digital divide also needs to be closed.
Billions of dollars were invested into schools during the pandemic through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to support educational technology. To monitor how schools are closing digital divides, one might first look at a school district’s Education Technology Plan. Education Technology Plans are written at the state, county and local school district levels. Ideally, these plans tell you what a school entity has done, is doing and plans to do in terms of using technology to meet instructional goals. Our study looked at education technology plans from all public school districts in Los Angeles County (n=80) in the summer of 2023 to ascertain the post-pandemic support plans with technology.
How did schools spend ESSER funds to address the digital divide? In light of California’s SB 130, which directs public school districts to continue offering remote learning opportunities, and the rapid advent of artificial intelligence, we especially looked at education technology plans for continuance of virtual learning and student use of artificial intelligence.
We first looked at education technology plans from the United States Department of Education Office of Educational Technology (2017) and the California State Board of Education (2021). The National Education Technology Plan (NETP) is the nation’s guide to effective technology initiatives and sets the foundation for states to create technology plans and policies. States set their technology initiatives in alignment. School districts then design local technology plans by assessing district needs, then using the state plan and NETP as guiding documents.
The NETP has been used to guide states’ education technology initiatives since 1996, but there has been no update to NETP since the Obama administration. The NETP is presently in a stakeholder feedback process for release in 2024. California’s State Technology Plan was updated in 2017, and most recently after the pandemic in 2021.
Our study found that only 22 of 80 school districts in Los Angeles County have publicly posted education technology plans — and of those, which were published between 2006 to 2021, only eight of them were created with the guidance of the 2017 National Education Technology Plan (none were created using updates from 2021).
Our summer 2023 study intended to look at school districts’ education technology plans to understand how districts were addressing post-pandemic learning plans with technology, especially in light of California’s policy for continued virtual instruction, and the rapid advent of AI. As only 22 of the 80 school districts in our sample had technology plans updated within the last 17 years, our study shifted to include thematic technology trends exhibited through the 80 districts’ websites, specifically with their virtual instruction and AI implementation since the pandemic. Through internet data mining of districts’ websites, there was still little information provided about virtual instruction and AI.
While our goal was to analyze the education technology plans with a framework, we found that many education technology plans did not fit any of the bedrock frames. Thus we propose a conceptual framework, based on a combination of Future-Ready, PISA ICT, U.N. Sustainable Development Goals and the 2017 ISTE Standards. ISTE is the most generally accepted authority for the effective use of technology in schools. We compared districts’ plan offerings from both their posted education technology plans and their public-facing websites.
For assessing the virtual learning plans, this study used a guide resourced by the state of California, the National Standards for Quality Online Programs (Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance, and Digital Learning Collaborative, 2024). These 14 standards have been the benchmark for online programs, districts and state agencies since 2007. For assessing the learning plans with artificial intelligence, this study utilized AI4K12’s ISTE-accepted guidance for AI use in schools. AI4K12 has five big ideas to assist schools in planning to support students’ AI concepts, essential knowledge and skills.
After using these guiding frameworks to examine the 22 education technology plans from Los Angeles County, a thematic analysis was conducted. We found 11 districts had evidence of virtual instruction and 11 (separate) districts had evidence of AI usage on their district websites. Only 14 percent of the 27.5 percent had posted plans of present use of virtual instruction and plans with artificial intelligence. Due to lack of public-facing information, we were unable to ascertain how the 14 percent of plans addressing virtual instruction and AI were using ESSER funds and addressing the digital divide.
Only identifying education technology plans in 27.5 percent of school districts in our sample leaves us wondering what school districts are using to guide their education technology initiatives. The implementation of policy regarding AI and virtual instruction into the 2024 NETP could help school districts close the digital divide.
Jaclyn Caballero is an Educational Leadership doctoral candidate at California State University, Long Beach, and is committed to fostering equitable environments for all learners, especially within Early Childhood Education. Devery J. Rodgers is assistant professor of Educational Leadership, College of Education, at California State University, Long Beach.