Technology Advocates Disagree
Karen Cator, director of the office of educational technology in the United States Department of Education and a former Apple Computer executive, says that standardized test scores are not an adequate measure of the value of technology for students:
“In places where we’ve had a large implementing of technology and scores are flat, I see that as great,” she said. “Test scores are the same, but look at all the other things students are doing: learning to use the Internet to research, learning to organize their work, learning to use professional writing tools, learning to collaborate with others.”
These are important skills for students to learn. But they are skills which students are probably honing at home when using the computer and Internet. Every single one of my college students knows how to use word processing software but that has little to do with their ability to write thoughtful analytical essays with well-substantiated arguments.
School Budget Cuts in Music, Art, PE
Technology isn’t the only way for students to “learn to collaborate with others”: Playing on a team in games in physical education class is another way, with the added benefit of getting students out of their seats. But PE is one area, along with music and art, in which instruction time is shrinking, due to budget issues. At a time when rising rates of childhood obesity have become a national concern, diminishing the hours of instruction in PE so that students spend more time on computers could be an innovation in the wrong direction.
Class size in Kyrene is also increasing: Seventh grade classes that had from 29 to 31 students now have 31 to 33 students.Teachers make roughly $33,000 to $57,000 a year and have not had a raise since 2008. The district’s maintenance and operating budget has shrunk from $106 million in 2008 to $95 million this year and teachers routinely bring in their own supplies.
The Question of Student Engagement
Teachers acknowledge that using technology often seems to be the only way to keep many students engaged. Indeed, “student engagement” is one of the main arguments for investing in classroom technology. But again, research “does not establish a clear link between computer-inspired engagement and learning,” as Randy Yerrick, associate dean of educational technology at the University of Buffalo, says.
“Do we really need technology to learn?” one Kyrene parent, Eduarda Schroder, asks. Last November, Schroder worked on the political action committee to advocate for an extension of the technology tax, so her answer to her question may seem obvious. But it’s a question that needs more consideration as schools decide whether to make big commitments to technology, possibly at the expense of other areas of student learning.
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