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Preliminary findings from a two-year study of new charter schools that were given extra funds to combine computer-based learning with teacher instruction show that schools quickly ran into budget shortfalls and pulled back on their technology plans. The study was written by the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington and published on May 28, 2014.

Budget shortfalls arose almost immediately because charter school leaders were overly optimistic about the number of students they could recruit to their new high-tech schools. Since a large chunk of a charter’s revenue comes from the per-student fees they receive from the public school district or state, the shortage of students left many charters far short of the revenues they had projected. School leaders typically ended up spending more on staff and less on technology than they originally planned. The eight schools in this study spent a total of only $650,000 on technology, 60 percent less than $1.7 million originally budgeted.

The report concluded that five of eight schools “may not be on track to realize the full promise of technology-enhanced classrooms.”

In the report, one school had purchased only 20 computers for a classroom of 37 students. Another school eliminated a centralized data dashboard and teachers couldn’t view student performance data in one place.

The schools in the study each received grants averaging more than $300,000 from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to start schools that would emphasize computer instruction tailored to each student’s needs. This CRPE study, looking at how these schools are faring, was also financed by the Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation is among the funders of The Hechinger Report, which publishes this blog.

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