Elizabeth Krumbach on 18 May 2012 15:59:38 -0700

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Re: [PLUG] Can FOSS help school districts in trouble?

On Mon, May 14, 2012 at 7:36 AM, Jim Fisher <jedijf@myfisher.org> wrote:
> Our own Lyz is part of this organization http://partimus.org/about.php
> on the West coast.

And we only bother with public charter schools and off-site public
after school programs, not regular public schools.

I did a talk at the Southern California Linux Expo in January on this
topic and I was fortunate to have a very well-informed audience that
was engaged and approached me afterwards throughout the conference
weekend to talk about their experiences.

Essentially unified public school districts are almost impossible to
get in to, even if you're a parent, even if you're a teacher, even if
you work in their IT department at one.

A fair amount has to do with how funding is structured for most public
K-12 schools in this country. You would think that cutting the IT
budget would allow them to keep more teachers, but unfortunately
funding tends to be very resource-specific, so spending less of their
IT budget really just means that next year they won't get as much IT
funding because they "obviously don't need it if they didn't spend
it." Their IT budget then gets funneled to another school in the
district for IT costs or funding at large gets cut (and not
re-channeled to other parts of the school, it instead often gets sent
to other social programs). Telling schools that open source software
is free is not an effective argument.

Additionally, major technology decisions tend to be made on a district
level, so you typically can't just walk into a school board meeting
where your child goes to school and propose a new technology agenda
and expect it to be welcomed.

Public Charter schools are not as tied to district-level decisions or
the same funding structures, the ones we work with actually can
redirect IT budget to teacher salary, and they do.

We're not without hope on the fully public side though, while there
has been very limited success, there are a couple compelling arguments
which have at least gotten some school districts to at least start
considering changes:

1. Data freedom. Vendor lock-in can be particularly painful for a
cash-strapped school, and explaining that it doesn't have to be this
way can make them think twice the next time they make a decision, and
maybe it won't be effective this year or next, but at least they are
made more aware that options exist.

2. Offering open source technology solutions AND training. Currently
Partimus.org does limited free training (in addition to free hardware
we get from donations and free support of their labs by our volunteer
staff), but we're considering an initiative to raise seed money to pay
instructors to develop and teach teachers and IT staff. Schools we've
talk to are happy to use their IT budget to pay for training rather
than investing in another proprietary solution, but training simply
doesn't currently exist for many of the open source technologies we're
looking at offering them.

I would also suggest attending educational conferences. The Ubuntu New
York team has had booths and held open source workshops at
http://www.nyscate.org/ and http://www.ithaca.edu/edtechday/ and are
frequently the only open source group there! Going where the teachers
and decision makers are is very helpful.

Elizabeth Krumbach // Lyz // pleia2
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