One of the most important issues in K-12 technology right now is the lack of engagement of administrators who are in formal positions of authority. For example, you can go to any educational technology conference in the country – NECC, CoSN, NSBA T+L, any state or regional conference – and the percentage of administrators in attendance is usually abysmally low. As I said in my previous post, without significant involvement by the individuals who have the power to make decisions, set organizational priorities, spend money, assign personnel, coordinate activities, initiate staff training, etc., the long-term prospects of technology in schools remain extremely dismal. Schools’ marginalization of technology as a non-essential activity, in contrast to every other sector of society, occurs because their leaders allow and facilitate it.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation State Challenge Grants for Leadership Development have been the only large-scale administrator technology training initiative to date. These grants were a good start. They were wildly successful from a coverage perspective – 75% to 100% of administrators in every state received some kind of technology training (as well as some participation incentive like a laptop or handheld computer). Many, if not most, of the participants came away from their training not only more knowledgeable but also energized about the potential and promise of technology. Unfortunately…

  1. The depth of administrators’ involvement was very shallow. In nearly every state, administrators received a maximum of three to six days of training, typically over the course of a single year.
  2. Even assuming that individual participants became better technology leaders over the long term as a result of the program (a big assumption despite what the final evaluation said), a tremendous number of those participants have retired or will do so soon (see, e.g., reports from NAESP and Because participation in the program was usually limited to practicing principals and/or superintendents, educators who represented the future pipeline of school administrators (e.g., assistant principals, technology coordinators, media specialists, teachers) received none of the Gates training.
  3. Few states did anything to build upon the momentum gained by the Gates grants. Most states stopped providing large-scale technology-related training opportunities for administrators once the foundation monies disappeared.

As a result, the $250 million initiative (half from the foundation, half from the states) made a big splash, got some good media attention, and then fizzled out in terms of long-term sustainability and impact.

It is time for our states to step up. Every state wants to graduate students who can be part of the creative, digital workforce of the future. One way to ensure that this happens is to quit relying primarily on school districts to train administrators in the technology arena because it is quite clear that they’re not doing so. We have a few notable school districts that are providing substantive technology-related training opportunities for their administrators (see, e.g., the ISTE / Chicago Public Schools’ Principal Technology Leadership Institutes). Most school districts are not, however, and we all will pay the price of states’ reliance on the variable patchwork of district-level initiatives.

SETDA, where is your programming for principals and superintendents (both current and future)? CoSN? ISTE? Corporations? Educational leadership associations (NSBA, AASA, NASSP, NAESP)? Others? Where’s the recognition that administrators, not students or teachers, hold the keys to making this technology stuff happen successfully? Does anyone not believe that technology is only going to become even more important than it already is?