It’s hard to find a classroom today without some form of technology. But does investing in technology pay off in terms of test scores? Does outfitting every student with a laptop or iPad necessarily mean they are learning better?
The New York Times takes a close look at the the Kyrene School District in Chandler, Arizona. After a ballot initiative was passed in 2005, the Kyrene School District has spent roughly $33 million on technology. Its classrooms are outfitted with laptops, Smart Boards (like that in the photo above) and software to drill students on basic subjects. Teachers are supposed to be guides rather than lecturers to students who work at their own pace by using the resources of the Internet.
For its efforts, the Kyrene School District was pronounced a model of success by the National School Boards Association, which orchestrated a visit of 100 educators from 17 states to see Kyrene’s innovations in 2008.
But since 2005, Kyrene students’ scores in reading and math have “stagnated,” while scores for the rest of the state have risen.
“Pretty Weak” Evidence
Tom Vander Ark, the former executive director for education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, acknowledges that data for the educational value of extensive investments in technology is “pretty weak.” As the New York Times says, there simply isn’t much research showing that technology-centric teaching improves student learning.
Many studies have found that technology has helped individual classrooms, schools or districts. For instance, researchers found that writing scores improved for eighth-graders in Maine after they were all issued laptops in 2002. The same researchers, from the University of Southern Maine, found that math performance picked up among seventh- and eighth-graders after teachers in the state were trained in using the laptops to teach.
Bryan Goodwin, spokesman for Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning, makes the point that “rather than being a cure-all or silver bullet, one-to-one laptop programs may simply amplify what’s already occurring — for better or worse.” Teachers who know what they’re doing will make good use of the technology while teachers who don’t will not.
A review by the Education Department in 2009 of research on online courses — which more than one million K-12 students are taking — found that few rigorous studies had been done and that policy makers “lack scientific evidence” of their effectiveness. A division of the Education Department that rates classroom curriculums has found that much educational software is not an improvement over textbooks.
Larry Cuban, an education professor emeritus at Stanford University, said the research did not justify big investments by districts.
“There is insufficient evidence to spend that kind of money. Period, period, period,” he said. “There is no body of evidence that shows a trend line.”
Just having a computer in a classroom is no guarantee of successful student learning and can even simply promote student distraction.
Photo by kjarrett
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