The proposal came out of the findings of the Smart Schools Commission, established by Gov. Cuomo as an advisory board “to gather information on strategies for how schools can most effectively invest proceeds from the proposed $2 billion Smart Schools Bond.” The commission released its report on the effort on October 27.
Not only would it help fund technologies like tablets and interactive whiteboards for students and teachers, as well as the high-speed connectivity needed to use them, but it could also pay for enhanced security and permanent classrooms. Such funding is especially attractive to rural and poor districts that lack adequate internet infrastructure.
“The Smart Schools Commission is all about identifying the best practices and strategies to transform New York’s schools into modern centers of learning that are fully equipped for the opportunities of tomorrow,” said Cuomo, who announced the referendum in his 2014 State of the State Address. The legislature approved it in the spring.
The amount of funding each school district would receive if the Smart Schools Bond Act Referendum is available at the governor’s web site.
The commission has elicited input from hundreds of parents, teachers, students, administrators and private sector stakeholders through a series of three public symposiums in Albany, Buffalo and New York City, as well as the state’s smart schools web site.
The seven “keys to success” articulated in the report are:
1. Embrace and expand online learning which will break down geographic barriers, provide access to the best sources of instruction in the world, and level the playing field for students in rural and smaller school districts.
2. Utilize transformative technologies, such as tablets, laptops, and interactive whiteboards to deliver differentiated instruction tailored to students’ specific abilities and needs that lets them learn and advance at their own pace.
3. Connect every school to high-speed broadband using technology that is capable of scaling up over time and deliver sufficient wireless capability to serve every student.
4. Extend connectivity beyond the four walls of the classroom so students from all backgrounds have equal access to the information superhighway.
5. Provide high-quality, continuous professional development to teachers, principals, and staff to ensure successful integration of technology into the teaching and learning experience.
6. Focus on in-demand STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] skills to ensure that students graduate with 21st century skills.
7. Plan, plan and plan again.
Not everyone is pleased with the initiative. An editorial on Syracuse.com wrote, “Schools would have to hire personnel to repair and maintain the new equipment and train the staff to use it, an additional cost that would be better spent on hiring more teachers and reducing class sizes. Communities should be the ones to decide whether their tax dollars should be spent on new technology, not Albany.” The publication favors gradually buying equipment.Among the members of the commission include
Eric Schmidt, executive chairman and former CEO of Google; Geoffrey Canada, president of Harlem Children’s Zone, and Constance Evelyn, superintendent of the Auburn School District in Cayuga County, New York.