Ranking high on Kevin Schwartz’s list of most memorable moments from his career as Austin (Texas) ISD’s technology officer for learning and systems is a pilot of a 1:1 device initiative he conducted 10 years ago with students in special education.
“It was a transformative moment for me to watch those kids be so enabled by the access and to see how these devices worked in so many different ways for them,” Schwartz said.
Currently, high school students in AISD are assigned a personal laptop as part of the district’s EVERYONE:1 initiative. “The most profound changes we see are in the populations who most need the difference, whether that’s low socio-economic, English learners, or students with disabilities,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz recently spoke with DA’s sister publication, Special Ed Connection,® about the impact of 1:1 device programs on students in special education and how special education administrators can work with their technology counterparts. The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity:
Q: What were some of the things you noticed when you began the 1:1 pilot?
A: We had an inkling that this might be a good idea, but special education actually had the funding. So, it was a collision of good things. We started our pilot with 50 students. We saw quickly that it was not just the thing or device, but what it could do for each student. Students who were on 504 plans that just needed an organizer — tech solved that for them. We had students go through the ARD [Admissions, Review, and Dismissal] process with a “D” for “dismissal” because what they needed was now in their hands.
We started the pilot with 25 students with a device and 25 students without, and we stopped it halfway through because we felt we were harming the students who didn’t have the devices. It was just that clear that this made a difference.
Q: As you’re moving forward with technology initiatives in your district, how do you ensure that special education populations are not left out of the conversation?
A: I’ve never not had it at the front of my mind. When we deploy 1:1, a lot of times we go to those groups first or ensure they’re actively part of the process. And if the device we pick isn’t the right one for them, we get them the device that does work. We’re not stuck on any particular device.
We’ve seen students with speech and development issues, and on day one of getting the device, their life changes. I’ve walked out of rooms on deployment days and started crying because I’ve already seen the shift in their lives.
Q: How can special education directors gain buy-in to work with their counterparts on tech initiatives?
A: I think a lot of technology directors have a solutions mindset. When technologists are given problems, we work to solve them. We say, “How can I make this better to help this student?” That sparks the thing in technologists where they want to find the way. That’s a good approach for special education administrators. Then, there’s showing them the data that shows the impact specifically for students with disabilities. If you want to move a needle in your district, that’s where you can really do it.