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Classroom Technology: where are the results?

New York Times reporter Matt Richtel turns a critical eye on this conundrum in his article from this past Saturday, “In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores.”

This piece is ‘must’ reading for anyone involved classroom technology adoption.

The problem with education- more specifically- classroom technology is that the purveyors, the public, students, their parents, and educators believe that adopting technology and using it in the classroom will improve student achievement.

Faith in technology turns out to be exactly that- a faith, or belief.

Now, data is beginning to percolate up challenging the faith placed in technology and its required spending. Bluntly, a district or a school can spend freely on adopting and integrating technology without a commensurate gain in student achievement.

Richtel terms the faith in technology vs. student achievement “A Dearth of Proof.”

I won’t repeat Richtel’s reporting. This excerpt from the opening of the article sets the stage:

“…The class, and the Kyrene School District as a whole, offer what some see as a utopian vision of education’s future. Classrooms are decked out with laptops, big interactive screens and software that drills students on every basic subject. Under a ballot initiative approved in 2005, the district has invested roughly $33 million in such technologies.

The digital push here aims to go far beyond gadgets to transform the very nature of the classroom, turning the teacher into a guide instead of a lecturer, wandering among students who learn at their own pace on Internet-connected devices.

‘This is such a dynamic class,’ Ms. Furman says of her 21st-century classroom.

‘I really hope it works.’ Hope and enthusiasm are soaring here. But not test scores.

Since 2005, scores in reading and math have stagnated in Kyrene, even as statewide scores have risen.

To be sure, test scores can go up or down for many reasons. But to many education experts, something is not adding up — here and across the country. In a nutshell: schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.

This conundrum calls into question one of the most significant contemporary educational movements. Advocates for giving schools a major technological upgrade — which include powerful educators, Silicon Valley titans and White House appointees — say digital devices let students learn at their own pace, teach skills needed in a modern economy and hold the attention of a generation weaned on gadgets.

Some backers of this idea say standardized tests, the most widely used measure of student performance, don’t capture the breadth of skills that computers can help develop. But they also concede that for now there is no better way to gauge the educational value of expensive technology investments.

‘The data is pretty weak. It’s very difficult when we’re pressed to come up with convincing data,’ said Tom Vander Ark, the former executive director for education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and an investor in educational technology companies. When it comes to showing results, he said, ‘We better put up or shut up.’

And yet, in virtually the same breath, he said change of a historic magnitude is inevitably coming to classrooms this decade: ‘It’s one of the three or four biggest things happening in the world today.’

Critics counter that, absent clear proof, schools are being motivated by a blind faith in technology and an overemphasis on digital skills — like using PowerPoint and multimedia tools — at the expense of math, reading and writing fundamentals. They say the technology advocates have it backward when they press to upgrade first and ask questions later…”(NYT)

Richtel develops his argument using sections titled:

Engaging With Paper
Instruct or Distract?
Teachers vs. Tech
The Sellers
The Parents

Be skeptical. The data we do have- and have accumulated over the years- shows that the single greatest correlation between student and his/her achievement is a qualified teacher.

Technology cannot teacher-proof a classroom, or, out-teach a good teacher.

I’ll make a modest proposal. How about upgrading the profession by respecting and understanding what good teachers do day in and day out. It’s difficult and perhaps one the most beneficial professions to society.

Enough, read Richtel.

Brian Fisher

A product of both private and public education, Brian Fisher served as a teacher, coach, dorm parent, and administrator at three different boarding schools. Brian also fills the role of Director of Development at Wolfeboro, The Summer Boarding School, in NH along with being a partner at AdmissionsQuest.

More by Brian Fisher

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