Most schools don't know much about education. Sure, most of them do a swell job of educating the easily educable--the bright kids who are self-motivated to learn. Schools which are blessed with many of these kids handily make AYP and are viewed as being successful schools. That's because it doesn't take a whole lot of skill to teach these kids. Educating these kids is like surfing; as long as you point yourself in the right direction and are somewhat careful you can ride the wave all the way in without falling unless you do something really stupid (i.e., anything "student centered").
On the other hand, these same successful schools do an awful job of educating the dim and/or unmotivated. And, woe be to the school which is burdened with many of these kids. We call these schools failing schools because they don't make AYP and their students lag behind grade expectations.
In this way, we conveniently label schools based on which category of kid predominates in the school. But, ostensibly, most schools are the same as far as ability to educate goes. That is, not very good. Schools know this. It is their dirty little secret. That's why they hate NCLB--it draws attention to their short-comings, and they'd rather you not know about it.
The result is that almost all schools are looking for a solution to their education woes. Maybe they have a school full of under-performers. Or maybe they have a persistent pocket of under-performers. In both cases, the problem isn't going to go away any time soon. This is because schools don't know how to make the problem go away. More accurately, they don't want to institute the rigid curricular and quality control measures that are necessary to improve educational outcomes.
So, they look for the next best thing. The magic bullet. And, the magic bullet of choice is new technology.
New technology is great if you are a clueless educator. You get to spend money on the latest must-have toys. Lacking this money, you get a good excuse to plea for increasing your budget to acquire said new toy. In any event, eventually you'll get your new toy, special interests dominate diffuse interests. And, with new toy in hand, you'll get to show parents that you're actually doing something about improving education. You are a caring educator, a pillar of the community. If you are media savvy, you'll be able to snare a gullible journalist, who surprisingly knows even less about education than you, who'll come over to look at your new toy and write a breathless story about you and your new toy.
Kinda like this story in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.
Here's your script. When journalist arrives to see your new toy make sure you have a young student available to demonstrate something that looks like education. Bonus points if the student is photogenic and young enough to cuddle. Extra bonus points if the student comes from an historically underperforming minority group. Super bonus points if the student is mildly retarded or has some other disability, preferably one of those fashionable learning disabilities.
The day took a decidedly atypical turn for one class when Angel Chavez, 5, wrote his name on the classroom board.
Instead of chalk or marker, Angel picked up an electronic pen and scrawled his name, as best he could, across the class’s new interactive white board, a computer screen sensitive to touch that also runs computer programs, streaming videos and Web sites. It’s one of 25 going up in Springdale classrooms this fall.
Next, display as many of your new toys as possible making certain to explain how much money you're spending (in education and technology more money = good) and how the technology is needed to connect with today's tech-savvy youth.
Arkansas educators will spend millions this year upgrading classroom technologies. The rollout figures to be particularly striking in Northwest Arkansas, a region state officials say is already home to the most hightech classes in the Natural State. Whether it’s electronic white boards, software that teaches students to read or even Global Positioning System devices for math classes, the new gadgets are aimed at one goal: plugging a generation of computer-savvy youth into learning.
Then trot out your technology director (if you don't have one dress up a custodian) and have her say something positive about your new toys. Bonus points for cramming in as many edu-buzzwords, like learning styles, differentiated instruction, and diversity, as possible.
“Kids in school now live in a multimedia world,” said Kathleen McInroe, technology director for the Bentonville School District. “They text message. They use cell phones. They do YouTube.
“ Learning in a visual, interactive kind of way has become their best learning style. We can’t ask them to leave that at the school door because we have other ways we are more comfortable teaching.”
Now, hold out the tin cup because even if you're flush with money you can never have enough of it. Bonus points for incorporating a heartwarming story of how you're already fleecing Uncle Sam to buy your existing toys. Message: you care.
FINDING THE MONEY Melanie Bradford, head of the Arkansas Department of Education’s research and technology division, said there is little state or federal money earmarked for technology in schools.
The only significant revenue stream from either source is the federal Enhancing Education Through Technology grant program, Bradford said. The program sent $ 2. 4 million in competitive grants to Arkansas schools with large numbers of low-income students last year.
Beyond the federal dollars, it largely falls to individual schools to squeeze money out of existing budgets to bring technology to their classrooms, Bradford said.
Now bring the journalist to a classroom in which many of your new toys are being used. Noe do a little compare and contrast, i.e., this is how we used to do it in the dark ages and this is how we do it now in the gilded age. Be sure to claim that educational outcomes are improving. Journalists are either too lazy to check the stats or won't understand them if they do. Bonus points for calling your profligate spending an "investment."
EVOLVING TECHNOLOGY Barbara Brannan has seen the region’s investment in technology first hand. Brannan is a science teacher at Holt Middle School in Fayetteville. She’s seen technology transform the way she teaches after teaching science in Fayetteville for more than 30 years. Before, she used transparencies, slides, and a video — if her school’s one television set was available — to teach concepts like the scientific method.
Today, Brannan and her students use laptops, document cameras, classroom clickers that let students answer questions electronically, and even GPS units to master the same concepts.
Incorporating technology is such a priority at Holt that administrators are starting to consider digital offerings when deciding whether to adopt new textbooks.
If the journalist does the unthinkable and asks whether student performance has improved with your new toys don't panic. Suppress your urge to run. Remember, he's not looking for the truth; he's looking to find pretty numbers that validate the prevailing viewpoint which includes the meme that technology is good for education.
The solution. Lie. Better yet, find someone with credentials to misrepresent the facts for you. Bonus points if your "expert" can actually spin the truth enough to get the truth printed while fooling the journalist. Hint: The word "correlation" is your friend and, in education at least, the word "research" can include things that aren't research. Be bold.
THE BENEFITS Northwest Arkansas educators give different answers when asked whether investing in technology leads to increased student achievement. Part of the reason for the discrepancy may be because there is limited research on the correlation between technology and learning.
The Metiri Group, a California based educational consultancy, put out a report in 2006 summarizing the existing research on the educational impact of technology in the classrooms.
The report found that technology provides a “small, but significant” boost in learning when implemented carefully.
Genius. Almost no one who isn't an economist understand that there are opportunity costs in adopting something that yields “small, but [statistically] significant” instead of something that yields results that are large and educationally significant.
The story practically writes itself. Now go out there are do some good, the world needs more heroes.