The First Trap of Digital Transition

Market Insight
A Five-Part Series Based on 2 Years on the Road Looking for Transition Success
LeiLani Cauthen

Traveling to some 53 U.S. cities over the last two years and interacting with groups of education executives who were all at one stage or another of the digital shift brought to light several major stumbling blocks for Education’s metamorphosis digitally. Having found these pain points, I also sorted through all I learned to come up with possible solutions for success.

The First and Most Misleading Trap: “No Money”

There is pervading belief, especially amongst the teacher ranks, that “there is no money” and that educational institutions are largely broke. This has been beaten in to such an extent that it hang-dogs people. It tends to make them not even attempt to try and solve it. It is a lie. Don’t be offended by my use of the word “lie.” As a word, it simply means “something that misleads or deceives.”  And that is what has occurred—a deception.

The truth is that the U.S. Educational system has more money in it than any in the world.  It has been that way for generations. You can argue that there are constraints and “ear-marks” for certain monies that handicap administrators, that there are still other irresistible reasons to still believe there is no money. Yet it’s interesting that some institutions have the exact same constraints and pull off technology transition anyway. 

It is true, though, that most corporations operate the same suppress-spending or even any-thought-of-spending-is-bad way, actually. You can walk into any major company and ask mid-level managers if there is loose money not allocated in some budget already to spend and you will universally be shown the door. Unless you have pre-sold and convinced them of your product’s worth and gotten it “budgeted” earlier, it’s normally going to be a no-go.

Only the most senior level executives actually know how much money is in the pot and how much is truly discretionary. It is done this way to keep the troops in line, so they don’t ask for every little thing that takes their fancy. The Education community is not unique in this respect but it differs from the rest of business America in a very important way – in business there is a belief that “somehow you can find the money” if there is will and a clear path to return-on-investment. In Education there is an automatic decision to not find it far more often and to do without or make do with inferior circumstances.

This is wrong-headed and good leaders should start now disabusing all staff on the idea that there “is no money” and instead challenge them to find a way, collaborate, promote, ask, have a more convincing argument and somehow wheedle money in. That’s the stuff that made America the Land of Ingenuity. It’s like the old cliché: If there is a will, there is a way.

My friend Joe Casarez, Assistant Superintendent at Coalinga-Huron emailed me one day asking if it was too late to join one of our forthcoming Digital Curriculum Strategy Discussions happening in Fresno, California. I told him no, he was free to come the next day. He scrambled to attend, driving many hours to make it, and then afterwards promptly went home and created some minor miracles. He apparently found money. He hired a Tech Director. He bought thousands of MacBooks. I’m almost certain he cajoled and persuaded a few other executives and teachers, and perhaps some of those he talked with pushed back and others were wholly enthusiastic. A year later he emailed the Learning Counsel this video.

I could not be more proud of him.

A new friend, Tracy Foster, Principal at Randle Highlands Elementary School in District of Columbia Public Schools, took the reins of her new school having moved there from California, discovered immediately that there was nigh to nothing for technology or enthusiasm for heightened learning results, and did her first glorious act. 

She decided. 

Then she spun into action, and without even asking for it, some outside angel granted her school and one other a sizeable gift. Personally I think she prayed or otherwise wished that into being herself—she’s just that kind of person. She then bought what she needed. Better yet, she pushed action and has a sparkling team of making-it-happeners now, including some of the best actual results I have ever heard. You can see video highlights of her talk at our Annual National Gathering here.

LeiLani is well versed in the digital content universe, software development, the adoption process, school coverage models, and helping define this century’s real change to teaching and learning. She is the author of the newly released book, The Consumerization of Learning.