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Fast Stats 2015: Revisiting the Technology Arms Race in Independent Schools

Monday, February 16, 2015  
Posted by: Sarah Stewart
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By: Jeffrey Mitchell, Head of School, Currey Ingram Academy, Brentwood, TN

Published: February 2015

Three years ago, I wrote a FastStats piece entitled The Technology Arms Race in Independent Schools. The data in that article clearly indicated that technology expenditures had skyrocketed faster than any other budgetary expense line over a 10-year span. The data also indicated large per-student differences in technology spending relative to enrollment. Larger schools were allocating significantly more per student than smaller schools. Meanwhile, smaller schools were disproportionately increasing the percentage amount dedicated to the technology budget relative to larger schools. This article revisits the data three years later to assess whether and how things have changed.

In the first graph, the per-student (operating) expenditure on technology of various size independent schools over the past 13 years is explored. School enrollment is broken down into four categories:

  • 25th percentile in overall enrollment i.e., a median of approximately 250 students over the past ten years;

  • 50th percentile in overall enrollment i.e., a median of approximately 400 students over the past ten years;

  • 75th percentile in overall enrollment i.e., a median of approximately 660 students over the past ten years;

  • 90th percentile in overall enrollment i.e., a median of approximately 980 students over the past ten years.

Per Student Technology Expenses by School Enrollment graph indicates that the per-student operating expenses for technology have had a steady and strong increase over the past 13 years, regardless of school size. However, please note the recession-related dip in spending from 2009-2010 to 2010-2011. The trend has not abated within the past three years, since the first article. You will also notice that the relative difference among the various size schools has not really changed. Bigger schools not only spend a lot more on technology, as expected, they also spend a lot more on technology per student, which may not be expected. Schools in the 90th percentile for enrollment spend $465 per student. Whereas, the median NAIS school spends $362 per student and the 25th percentile NAIS school spends $244 per student. This is a huge difference and clearly gives larger schools more budgetary flexibility to develop leading-edge technology initiatives.


The second graph shows the "Absolute & Percentage Increases in Student Technology Expenses by School Enrollment." The absolute dollar amount increases are not appreciably different among different size schools over the past 13 years, except that schools at the 25th percentile lag behind the larger schools. When the percentage increase in the technology expenditure is calculated, however, it is clear that the median and smaller schools have increased substantially relative to larger schools in allocations over the past 13 years. In short, the arms race may be taking more of toll on the budgets of medium and smaller schools as they try to catch-up.

Regardless of school size, one hopes for a concomitant increase in the quality of programs with this increase in expenditures. Although there are many ways that technology can improve the student experience, the ultimate outcome is student achievement. That is, has this investment in technology improved/enhanced student outcomes? It is too early to tell for sure, but John Hattie's research on learning outlined in his Visible Learning series has essentially concluded that the evidence that technology positively impacts student achievement is negligible. Hattie also says that technology really does not improve student achievement unless most of the following is in place:

  1. There is a diversity of teaching strategies.

  2. There is a pre-training in the use of computers as a teaching and learning tool.

  3. There are multiple opportunities for learning.

  4. The student, not the teacher, is in “control” of learning.

  5. Peer learning is optimized.

  6. Feedback is optimized.

Thus, although I am very much a technology advocate, and have been on or near the leading edge of implementation as both a teacher and administrator for all of my 20 years as an educator, this FastStats is a cautionary tale to not get caught up in a race in which it is unclear what it means to win.

Dr. Jeffrey Mitchell is the Head of School at Currey Ingram Academy in Brentwood, TN. He can be reached via email at


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