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Luna-cy #1: advanced technology increases learning

21st century schools: dependent on technology?
21st century schools: dependent on technology?
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

In his Students Come First plan, Superintendent Luna proposes to increase academic performance by increasing technology in the classroom. Assuring shareholders that technology will allow teachers to “manage” more students in their classes (thus reducing the need for expensive teacher salaries), Luna says,

“By spending what we currently have differently, we can restore teacher pay, invest $50 million in technology, raise the bar academically, and implement a way to reward Idaho’s excellent educators. And we can do it all without raising taxes.

How? By increasing the average student-teacher ratio statewide by less than two students over the next five years, we can save the state more than $100 million a year. These savings will go back into the classroom, giving teachers the tools to manage more students and raise academic achievement.”

This is clearly an economic plan that makes business sense – but it does not make academic sense. Technology alone does not teach students how to think, how to write, how to analyze and debate issues. The bells and whistles that make up 21st Century classrooms (see video demonstration of Smartboards at left) are fun for kids and for teachers. As one teacher says in the video, “the kids are awake.” Luna adds:

“Right now, school is the least technological part of any student’s day. This must change.

The state will invest $6,000 per classroom in technology, expand digital learning, provide dual credit courses, and even provide a laptop computer or another digital device for every high school student.”

All of that software and its associated hardware will be outdated in three or four years. The cash infusion that Idaho invests now will need another cash infusion and another and another just to keep the games and activities updated. Students who are already spending too much of their days in front of screens will be spending hours at school plastered to devices – not interacting with teachers and peers in the classroom; googling (not reading or researching or creating) information for reports; playing with graphics and information that they no longer need to know as it appears magically on the board in front of them.

While these hands-on experiences are exciting and fun, they can’t replace the learning and self-esteem that come from hard work. By allowing students to feel successful in a limited way (clicking on the right multiple choice answer; playing with colored math manipulatives on the board) limited learning can take hold. But these visual tricks will not replace a knowledgeable teacher who can guide discussions through students’ own ideas and thought processes.

Where will the virtual, hands-on SAT test be? How will students verbally engage others in the college classroom? In the workplace? At home? How will all of this technology prepare students for political engagement and debate, for assessing new “silver bullets” proposed by Superintendents of Education, for taking a stand on environmental and social issues that will continue to need addressing in the 21st century?

Technology invests the economy with cash which we as taxpayers have allocated for schools. Technology introduces students to tools they will need in the workplace. Technology is an ever-changing, ever-growing sector requiring constant updates and cash infusions.

One good teacher can prepare her students for the challenges ahead with ZERO technology. What is more useful in the 21st century: students who can think for themselves? Or technological robots who can push the right buttons but who never know why those buttons need to be pushed? Is George Orwell’s vision of 1984 coming to our classrooms? Are we actually going to fund that vision, thinking it will be better for our students?

· Luna-cy #2: laptops help students learn

· Luna-cy #3: online credits improve education

· Luna-cy #4: dual credits promote challenge

Superintendent Luna’s plan for Idaho schools = economics, NOT education

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