Pixel Tracker

Monday, February 18 , 2019, 11:41 am | Fair 55º

 
 
 

David Sirota: When It Comes to Education Technology, Trust But Verify

Evidence shows it's hardly a safe bet to invest in flashy gadgets with the allure of a quick fix amid declining school budgets

The release of Apple’s computer-based textbooks last month had the usual technology triumphalists buzzing. “Apple And The Coming Education Revolution,” the headline blared in Fast Company magazine. “Apple puts iPad at head of the class,” MacWorld screamed. And Time magazine declared the announcement the “debut (of) the Holy Grail of textbooks.” It sounds exciting — a rise of the machines that promises educational utopia rather than Terminator-style cataclysm.

Or does it?

Though it may be too soon to definitively answer that question, it’s not too soon to ask it. Because despite the celebratory hype, there’s no guarantee that a hyper-technologized education system is synonymous with genuine progress.

Ponder, for starters, the much-discussed issue of financial efficiency. As the tech Web site Gizmodo noted in a post titled “You Can’t Afford Apple’s Education Revolution,” the new iPad-based books might “only cost $15 a pop,” but “instead of selling an updated textbook every five to 10 years for $100, (publishers will) update and sell every year for $15,” and “it’s not like you can hand down an iBook from year to year ... you expressly can’t.”

It’s the same story with so many other vaunted education-branded technologies: They seem to promise resource-strapped school districts a way to constructively reduce expenditures, but the dazzle of flashy gadgets and interactivity often means budget-busting costs over the long haul.

Those costs might be justifiable when a new device is a sure bet to improve education. But a school’s wager on computer technology as a pedagogic panacea is often just that — a blind gamble, and one that evidence shows is hardly safe.

In Colorado, for instance, the nonprofit I-News Network recently reported that students attending the state’s “full-time online education programs have typically lagged their peers on virtually every academic indicator, from state test scores to student growth measures to high school graduation rates.” Stanford University researchers found similar results in their separate study of online schools in Pennsylvania. And after its exhaustive national investigation of the trend, The New York Times concluded that “schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.”

In lieu of empirical data, why are schools rushing into this brave new world of technology?

For one thing, there’s the allure of a quick fix, as gadgets seem to hold out the possibility that school districts can sustain huge budget cuts without sacrificing quality tutelage. The idea is that teachers can be replaced by cheaper computers, at once saving schools money, preventing tax increases for school resources and preserving educational services. Even if data prove that’s a pipe dream, the desire for a cure-all has convinced many desperate schools to chase the fantasy.

There’s also political pressure from high-tech companies that, according to Education Week, “are thriving in the K-12 market.” As the Investigative Fund’s Lee Fang recently documented, these firms use some of the loot they’re generating to finance state-based political front groups, hire lobbyists and employ has-beens like Gov. Jeb Bush as their public representatives. The result is a powerful political infrastructure that pushes state legislatures and local school boards to divert money away from proven education tools (teaching staff, textbooks, etc.) and into risky technology procurement.

There’s little doubt, of course, that some technologies may end up bringing about genuine advancements in education. But that possibility is no reason to suddenly ignore President Ronald Reagan’s notion of “trust, but verify.” After all, before it was the Gipper’s, that motto was the mantra of the most devoted science and technology geeks — just as it should be schools’ mantra now.

David Sirota is the best-selling author of the new book Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now and blogs at OpenLeft.com. Click here for more information. He can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow him on Twitter: @davidsirota.

Talk to Us!

Please take Noozhawk's audience survey to help us understand what you expect — and want — from us. It'll take you just a few minutes. Thank you!

Get Started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >