TARGET 8: Are students getting equal access to resources?

8 months 1 week 19 hours ago May 12, 2016 May 12, 2016 Thursday, May 12 2016 Thursday, May 12, 2016 9:00:00 PM CDT in Target 8
By: Amber Smith, KOMU 8 Reporter

COLUMBIA – Not all students have equal access to technology in the classrooms. Even within the same districts, disparities exist.

In recent weeks, Target 8 has been investigating disparities among districts because of underfunding by the state, and some lawmakers have questioned whether the state's funding is constitutional.

Some districts have tried to fill the funding gap left from the state by running bonds or levies, asking local taxpayers to supplement funding through increased property taxes, but other district officials said their communities are too poor to approve tax hikes.

On a more local level, resources on a building-to-building level can differ based on distribution of and access to funds, including PTA and booster money.

KOMU 8 News looked at the technology inventories of three local school districts in order to take a look at some of the differences.

Columbia Public Schools Communications Director Michelle Baumstark said money is an obstacle schools face when striving to provide equal access to technology.

“We have to create access to resources. We have to create opportunities. We have to create equity for all of our students to be able to share the same experiences, and that sometimes comes with a cost,” Baumstark said.

Baumstark said a reason disparities exist among public schools is because school districts need to rely on the support of the community to help make up for funds not covered by the state government.

“When you see cuts at the state level or at the federal level, what you will often see is school districts asking their local community to continue to support them at those levels and that’s a challenge,” Columbia Public Schools Communications Director Michelle Baumstark said.

Columbia residents recently passed a bond and a levy to help sustain the schools, despite funding cuts. However, not all school districts are capable of getting the same support from the local community.

Another way local communities support the schools is through parent organizations. Baumstark said parent organizations like PTAs have their own budgets and decide how they are going to provide funds to the school buildings.

“We often find that it’s support for school buildings or activities that the school district would not be able to do otherwise,” Baumstark said.

Those parent organizations donate resources to their school building, which can create some of the disparities throughout buildings in the same district. However, Baumstark said the parent organizations in Columbia Public Schools are usually supportive of one another.

MU College of Education School of Information and Learning Technologies Post Doctoral Fellow Fatih Demir said there is not equal access to technology in classrooms in Missouri.

“We have some areas like urban areas versus rural areas, which have different types of schools in terms of accessing the technology,” Demir said.

He said technology in classrooms can increase student productivity, so schools with more access to technology can provide a better learning environment than schools with less access.

“It is proved scientifically that students focused for longer time when technology was offered, particularly in K-12 schools,” Demir said.

Despite the benefits of technology integration in schools, not all buildings even in the same district have equal access to resources.

KOMU 8 News requested the tecnology inventories of all Columbia Public Schools, Jefferson City Public Schools and Mexico Public Schools. KOMU 8 News then compared the amount of technology devices per building to the most recent building enrollment numbers from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

One thing to note is that the inventories are for school buildings and could include teachers' devices. That means that even if the ratio is one, that does not necessarily mean that every student has a device because some could be for teachers.
Create bar charts

KOMU 8 News also compared the device per ratio numbers to the percentage of free and reduced price lunch elligible students per building. There did not appear to be a clear correlation becuase some buildings with better student to device ratios have more students elligible for free and reduced price lunch and some had fewer students elligible for free and reduced price lunch.

KOMU 8 News asked Baumstark how Columbia Public Schools decides which schools should get what resource and when.

“We have a long-range plan, a district technology plan, that is updated on a regular basis that essentially has pointed us in the direction for managing technology implementation in the district,” Baumstark said.

She said the district has a technology committee that develops the district technology plan. She said the committee takes input from educators and looks at what other districts are doing to create a plan of action.

Currently, Baumstark said Columbia Public Schools have a minimum ration 2:1, meaning there cannot be more than two students per one electronic device. The district is currently trying to move to a 1:1 ratio, where every student would have an electronic device.

Battle High School is the first in the district to move to the 1:1 ratio. KOMU 8 News asked how Battle High School was selected to be the first to have an iPad for every student.

"We didn’t necessarily want to jump in right away until we had a full grasp on some of the challenges that would be there, so that we could do it with fidelity and have best practices moving forward to expand that program throughout the district,” Baumstark said.

Baumstark said the district strives to create equity throughout all its schools.

“We have made some significant investments when it comes to technology and trying to make sure that we do that with equity and fidelity across all of our school buildings so that all of our students have equal access,” Baumstark said.

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