Counting on Technology?

It seems like we have talked about technology in the classroom since the dawn of time.  We’ve waded our way through the era of one-to-one computing, down the path of virtual K-12 education, and now into the stream of 21st century skills.  We have focused on ensuring kids had access to computers in the classroom, in the community, and at home.  We’ve watched as the cost of technology plummeted, school district access to bandwidth dramatically increased, and students gained a tech savviness that one never quite expected.  But these seem to be spurts of discussion, not the sort of sustained dialogue that lead real change and real improvement.

Earlier this year, the economic stimulus package focused, in part, on delivering hundreds of millions of dollars for technology investments in our K-12 classrooms and for data systems for those who are keeping watch over our kids.  So with all of the money spent, all of the programs launched, and all of the technology talk, what do we actually know?  How is our continuing investment in technology affecting student learning, student achievement, and student opportunity?
Sadly, we aren’t close to having the answers to such essential questions.  But we are getting closer.  As a nation, we are now taking a closer look of our schools’ technology capacity, use, and effective integration.  And this week we have two interesting data sets to help move the discussion forward.
First up is Education Week’s Technology Counts.  To be expected, the good folks at EdWeek offer a close look at how our states stack up with regard to capacity and use of educational technology.  This year’s report card looks at four key issues: state standards for students include technology, state tests students on technology, state has established a virtual school, and state offers computer-based assessments.  How do our states do?
On the whole, we are scoring a B when it comes to technology use.  We’re weakest when it comes to state tests students on technology, with only 13 states making the grade.  We’re strongest when it comes to state standards, with 50 states hitting the mark (only DC failed to earn the checkmark in that column).
What’s disturbing, though, is the list of states that seem to be struggling when it comes to integrating technology into their instruction and assessment.  The laggards on EdWeek’s list include California, New York, Ohio, Colorado, and Nevada.  Based on their economies, Eduflack would have expected better.  These are bellweather states that we look to as leaders.  They are homes to some of our largest urban districts, those communities we specifically reference when we talk about the need to innovate and close the achievement gap.
It is even more startling when you see those states that scored perfect As, states like Louisiana and West Virginia that few would put at the top of any educational leaders list.  but to their credit, these states are doing the right things and taking the right steps to better use technology.
While EdWeek looks at how our states and school districts are (or aren’t) using technology, Project Tomorrow released its annual Speak Up data on students and their use of technology.  Project Tomorrow seems to paint a far less optimistic picture.  Our schools may be providing capacity, but are students seeing its effective application?  Only 39 percent of high schools surveyed said they were doing a good job preparing students for the future, with only 32 percent of parents sharing that view.  And one-third of students say the inability to use their own technology — laptops, cell phones, MP3 players — at school is hampering their learning process.  
Think about that for a second.  One in three students sees the problem in being unplugged when they pass through the schoolhouse doors.  One-third of students feeling they are being deskilled in school, with classroom technology offerings not coming close to the gadgets and devices they are using at home, on the school bus, and in virtually any other non-educational setting.
So what do we make of the best-of-times/worst-of-times data offered by EdWeek and Project Tomorrow?  For Eduflack, there are a few key conclusions:
* We are doing a better job of integrating technology in the learning process, as evidenced by the EdWeek numbers.  But we still have a long way to go.  With 40 percent or more of states failing to make the grade on three of the four Technology Counts categories, there are miles to go before we should be satisfied.
* As we pump hundreds of millions of dollars into new ed tech, we still are struggling to identify best practices.  Only nine states truly make the EdWeek grade.  But do they offer up models that the laggards can follow?
* Our students are more tuned in to the learning and application gaps than we realize.  They know they are being shortchanged when they are asked to check personal technology at the classroom door.  And now their parents are even recognizing that tuning out may cost their kids in the long run.
* Ed tech is still not getting the attention or focus it deserves.  The Project Tomorrow announcement has gotten zero press coverage to date.  Technology Counts has not gotten the recognition it deserves.  And there seems to be little pressing demand for the details on how ARRA spending on education technology will be directed.
But it isn’t all bad.  The growth of virtual schools is an interesting surprise.  Twenty nine states are now offering virtual education.  Florida is mandating it in every one of their school districts.  Alabama is requiring virtual education for graduation.  The fact that so many states — including many that would be described as status quoers in public education — recognize that virtual education can supplement the learning and achievement process is a positive development to say the least.
As is typical, I want to know more.  I want to know how online social networks are being used to support student learning.  I want to know how technology is being used to develop and deliver meaningful professional development for teachers, breaking down geographic barriers so educators can share best practice.  I want to know how we integrate technology in the classroom to technology in testing to technology in data collection and interpretation.  I want to know not only how we keep from deskilling our students, but how do we keep from deskilling our new teachers who were brought up on the same technologies and learning platforms are students seem to hunger for.  And I want to know how we dispel, once and for all, the silly beliefs that low-income and minority students don’t have access to such technologies.
The true measure of all of this, though, is what we do with the information we have.  What will middle-of-the-pack or laggard states do to catch up to West Virginia, South Carolina, and Arizona when it comes to education technology?  How do we ensure that technology is integrated into the core curriculum, used to provide new learning opportunities and new skills in traditional subjects like history, science, and foreign languages?  How do we use technology to better assess student ability and better identify and deliver the interventions students need to improve?  How do we build useful data systems?  How do we use technology to keep kids engaged and interested in what is happening in the classroom?  How do we use ed tech to up-skill our students, and not de-skill them?  How do we help schools, parents, and students feel that they are gaining the tech skills necessary to succeed a
fter the school years are completed?  
And from a practical perspective, how do we ensure that technology and its proper acquisition and application is included as part of any Race to the Top grant or school improvement and innovation effort?  How do we take what we know to improve, rather than just maintain?
A lot of questions, I’ll grant you.  But all necessary.  This week’s data helps guide the inquiry process.  But it can’t be a once-a-year discussion any more.  Effective use of technology in the classroom needs to be a daily point of discussion with policymakers, administrators, educators, and families.  If we expect to boost student achievement, close the achievement gap, and compete on those international benchmarks, it is a non-negotiable.  Technology allows us to innovate, do things differently, and engage students on core subjects in new and exciting ways.  if the name of the game is improvement through innovation, how can we neglect the role of technology in any solution?

368 thoughts on “Counting on Technology?

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