School & District Management

K-12 Tech Leaders Prioritize Cybersecurity, But Many Underestimate Risks, Survey Says

By Mark Lieberman — May 08, 2020 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

School technology leaders appreciate the rising cybersecurity threats in K-12 education, but many still are not taking all the steps necessary to better protect their schools, concludes a new annual report on ed-tech leadership.

The report, released today by the Consortium for School Networking, points that only 18 percent of respondents said their school or district has a full-time employee dedicated to cybersecurity; and fewer than 20 percent marked any items on a list of cybersecurity threats as “high-risk” from their perspective.

More than 500 CoSN members responded to this year’s survey, which was conducted between November 2019 and January 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the vast majority of American schools.

As of January, K-12 school technology leaders still considered cybersecurity their biggest priority, according to the annual report. Their priorities likely have shifted since schools moved to remote learning, but cybersecurity is still probably a top concern, especially since a record number of teachers and students are using school-issued or home computing devices to access school networks.

Some other notable takeaways from the report:

IT leadership remains not especially diverse. More than 90 percent of respondents identified as white, and one quarter identified as women, which means the vast majority of IT leaders are white men. The percentage of female IT leaders in the survey has declined by more than 10 percentage points since 2016, which “could reflect an increasing preference for technical backgrounds in hiring requirements for IT Leadership positions,” the report said. Indeed, more than half of surveyed male IT leaders said their professional background is in technology, compared with only 29 percent of women.

Staffing was an issue even before the new financial crisis. Fifty-one percent of respondents said their team isn’t large enough for implementing new technology. Fifty-seven percent said the same for integrating technology into the classroom, and 63 percent said the same for supporting teachers on maximizing the value of classroom technology. The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to prompt massive budget cuts in schools nationwide, which means these staffing challenges aren’t likely to go away anytime soon, and could get worse.

IT leaders know equity is a major challenge. The digital divide has become a national talking point over the past two months as schools scrambled to provide devices and Internet access to millions of students who didn’t previously have them at home. Ninety-six percent of respondents said equity is a priority in their work, and more than half said they were already implementing strategies like purchasing hotspots and partnering with local businesses to help increase students’ tech access outside the school building. Recent efforts to bridge those gaps “highlight the innovation of IT Leaders as they seek solutions to the problem, but they also highlight the degree to which the responsibilities of IT Leaders have expanded, now even beyond school walls,” the report says.

Many IT leaders have significant control over district purchasing. Slightly more than two-fifths of survey respondents said they either have final decision-making power or a “heavy” or “key” influence over spending on digital content. The CoSN report says IT leaders’ involvement in those negotiations “enables more fully informed decisions and enables IT departments to plan accordingly should an educational product with known back-end technical challenges be adopted.”

There’s still more work to do. Overall, the report says results reflect optimism among IT leaders about the potential for their work to improve and support the educational experience. But challenges remain. One respondent commented that his or her district is “still in the Stone Age” compared with wealthier districts elsewhere, and the report notes that “budgets and resources are still insufficient.”

“From the lack of common use of agreed-upon data and content technical standards to relentless pressure of cybersecurity threats, issues IT Leaders face have never been more complex or difficult,” the report says.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management 10 Ways to Tackle Education's Urgent Challenges
As the school year gets underway, we ask hard questions about education’s biggest challenges and offer some solutions.
2 min read
Conceptual Image of schools preparing for the pandemic
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management Reported Essay Principals Need Social-Emotional Support, Too
By overlooking the well-being of their school leaders, districts could limit how much their schools can flourish.
7 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management From Our Research Center Educator Stress, Anti-Racism, and Pandemic Response: How You're Feeling
A new nationally representative survey offers key takeaways from teachers, principals, and district leaders.
EdWeek Research Center
1 min read
2021 BI COVER no text DATA crop
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management Download 8 Tips for Building a Digital Learning Plan That Conquers Chaos
Craft flexible strategies, encourage experimentation with new instructional models, and regularly solicit feedback.
1 min read
onsr edtech tips