Another failed ‘shock and awe’ campaign

I confused an educational policy maker the other day when we were talking about classroom technology. ‘What do you think about whiteboards in every classroom?’ she asked.

‘It would be a complete waste of money,’ I answered.

Like so many reform efforts in education, I think schools and districts are wasting huge sums of money on “shock and awe” campaigns designed to get whiz-bang digital tools into every classroom as quickly as possible. Surrounded by messages that digital learning is essential for success in tomorrow’s world, we’ve invested billions of dollars into hardware and software that often has little impact on student achievement. This belief was only reinforced this week when the Department of Education released a report detailing the failure of widely touted educational software “solutions.”

The solution to raising student achievement in classrooms across the country relies on ensuring that every child has access to an accomplished teacher. Technology can play a role in student achievement only when teachers have had opportunities to engage in meaningful professional development over time designed to change instructional practices.

The first step necessary for “getting right in our relationship with technology” is to develop a clear vision for what role we want digital tools to play in classrooms. Do we believe that they can support assessment and regrouping of students? Do we believe that they help to deliver content in motivating ways? Do we believe that they can be used to differentiate instruction for students who need remediation or enrichment?

Prince George’s County Superintendent John E. Deasy has the right perspective towards educational technology: “No technology adds value by itself,” he said. “Just employing software is not likely to lift test scores for students.”¬† It’s time that we realized that value is only added in classrooms where high quality instruction–supported by technology solutions that make sense–is taking place.