Philadelphia Using Creativity, Leadership to Push Ed Tech


Philadelphia is behind similar-sized districts in technology adoption, but schools across the district are working to utilize their limited ed tech resources in creative ways to support students’ learning.

A report issued in 2013 ranked Philadelphia second from the bottom on its computers’ average age and low on student to device ratio. Overall, Philadelphia’s tech spending is the “third lowest, less than half the median among reporting schools,” Dan Hardy of The Notebook reports.

Fran Newberg, Deputy Chief of Educational Technology, says that despite its limited resources the District has been able to keep up with the rest of the tech-driven districts of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Newberg argues that she and her colleagues even with limited resources:

“… are rolling out the next generation of technology for classrooms, as well as new administrative systems that will increase efficiency and the exchange of information.”

10th grade math teacher Chad O’Connor shares Fran’s conviction that Ed Tech can reshape learning in schools as it enables self-paced learning, progress monitoring, makes students accountable for their learning. Technology puts them in charge of their performance, Shannon Nolan and Camden Copeland of The Notebook report.

Superintendents and teachers look for and find creative ways to introduce technology in the classroom despite their small tech budgets. Thanks to a one-time fundraising and a $620,000 grant from Dell’s Center of Excellence, Science Leadership Academy (SLA) principal Chris Lehmann managed to provide SLA Center City and Beeber students with Chromebooks. The grant will fund new Chromebooks purchases in SLA campuses for the next three years.

The SLA @ Beeber high school, which has been honored by the White House as a national tech-infused, project-based high school model, sets the gold standard for other district schools to follow:

Every student has a Chromebook and a school email address. They work on a constant string of projects, alone and in teams, posting their work on the school blog. Technology is infused in everything they do,” Bill Hangley Jr. writes on Technically.

Chromebooks, the inexpensive, lightweight notebooks running on Google’s Chrome OS, seem a viable solution for integrating Ed Tech in tight-budget schools in Philadelphia and elsewhere. “Putting a device in everyone’s hands has changed the way we look at education,” said Lehmann.

Chromebooks don’t rely on school servers to save files because they are cloud-based and offer every tool through apps. Chromebooks are considered an inexpensive solution compared to Macbooks which cost schools about four times more.

Several other schools are trying to build a tech culture in the classroom to enable and support students learning through technology. Tech budgets are relevant, but “what it comes down to is strong school leadership,” Northeast’s regional superintendent Dion Betts believes.

“A principal who pushes the right things,” and “balancing the resources you have with the best practices you can implement” are the keys to catching up with the rest of the community, Betts asserts.