The intersection of technology and test scores

As always, remember that John’s book The Influence of Teachers is for sale at Amazon.

“In Classroom of the Future, Stagnant Scores” blared the headline in New York Times on September 4th. The paper’s editors decided that the top-of-the-fold story on Page 1 also warranted two full pages inside, plus four color photos and a graph. That’s a huge part of the news hole on any day, but particularly on Sunday, when circulation is at its highest.

The long piece is worth reading, but at the end of the day what stood out for me was what the article failed to take note of: the unimaginative uses of the technology, essentially digital versions of routine stuff: One teacher gave a true-false quiz but handed out wireless clickers for students to record their answers. In other classes, kids were playing a math game (“Alien Addition”) and an interactive spelling game, while other students were videotaping a skit that they could as easily have simply performed for the class.

In none of the examples presented were teachers using the technology to burst the boundaries of their classroom to connect with students in other cities, or even elsewhere in their district. None were using the Internet to do original research. I’ve written about this before, and Learning Matters producer John Tulenko helped craft a great piece related to the topic:

It seemed to be all about entertainment or delivering more efficiently what the adults had decided the kids need to know, rather than allowing and encouraging students to follow their own interests — at least occasionally. I fault the reporter for not drawing that distinction and for not pressing the adults who are spending all this money on the paucity of imagination.

But my real point is that the Times reporter could — and should — have written a very different story:

“Schools spend billions on technology but use it to do the same old stuff in more entertaining ways!”

Why is this happening, the reporter could have asked? Is it because teachers don’t understand the technology’s power, or because they want to make sure the kids learn what the adults have decided they must learn — or because they are ruled by fear of low test scores?

Running throughout the article is a constant refrain about the limitations of test scores. Adult after adult complained that “Test scores were not an adequate measure of the value of technology” but then went on to say, in effect, “Well, that’s what we have to live by.”

Tech

Why is technology being used in rote ways?

That really gets my dander up. They are endorsing spending billions on technology — it’s not their money — and they complain about the tyranny of bubble tests, even while their pedagogy is focused on test scores.

If they understood what today’s technology can do, and if they were enabling their teachers to go there, and if scores were still stagnant, that would be a story. (But the story might now be about how inappropriate bubble tests are to measure this new learning.)

Something must be done. The Times reports that school systems spent $1.89 billion on software in 2010 and perhaps five times that amount on hardware. That’s real money, especially at a time when school districts are going to four-day weeks, cutting art and music, eliminating Advanced Placement classes, and making other draconian cuts.

And then this expensive technology is used in woefully unimaginative ways!

Establishing a ratio of dollars for training to dollars for software and hardware is not the answer, because there aren’t sufficient incentives for teachers to try new approaches — at least not as long as their main job is to get those test scores up.

To find the solution, go back to the whining mentioned above, the constant complaints about the lack of adequate measures.

That brings me to a conversation I had last week with a leader in the reform movement. I asked his thoughts about the erasure scandals in Atlanta, Washington D.C., Philadelphia and elsewhere. He said it was a wake-up call and a clear message that we need better security. “Since those scores count for so much,” he said, “systems have to do a better job of protecting the tests.”

He’s not alone. A few days ago a panel of experts in New York recommended tighter security, including giving all tests on the same day and requiring proctors to certify that they have been trained in ‘security procedures.’

Wrong, guys! That barn door is off the hinges and the the horse is long gone. As long as adults’ jobs and students’ promotions and graduations are determined by test scores, there will be cheating. Students can use wireless devices to share answers, for example, while ‘fully certified’ proctors can still nudge nudge wink wink their way around the room, helping students pass.

We ought to be searching for multiple measures of academic progress, measures that are valid, reliable and reasonably affordable.

Who should be doing the searching? Wonderful as the U. S. Department of Education’s i3 ‘innovation’ grant program sounded, it was never set up to support risky investments of the sort I think will be required. It bet on such ‘innovations’ as Teach for America and KIPP, and that’s fine, but what’s needed here is some real risk-taking.

I have three candidates:

1. The companies now making megabucks on testing, Pearson and McGraw-Hill, ought to be protecting their revenue stream by finding better ways.

2. Apple, Microsoft, Dell and others hawking their products have a strong interest in public evidence of the power of technology.

But the best candidate might be the New Schools Venture Fund, who I think are the brightest folks on the block. That organization has never been shy about taking chances, probably because it exemplifies the spirit of its founder, John Doerr. In the Venture Capitalist world, only a small percentage of investments hit a home run, and the NSVF gets that. It’s putting dollars behind a number of new approaches to teacher training, for example, in the expectation that some of them will be a distinct improvement on the current approach — while others will fall short.

(I don’t know how NSVF finances work, but maybe Apple, McGraw-Hill, et alia should be making large donations to that organization?)

We need that venture capitalist mentality and approach to the world of measurement. So what if most of the schemes don’t pan out, as long as we emerge with a few that actually work?

This matters because right now school systems have almost no incentive to trust technology — because they don’t know how it will affect those test scores.

Look, educators are excessively literal and overly reactive. They haven’t gotten where they are by taking chances, so don’t expect them to take the lead now. Society has been telling them that we want good reading scores (we haven’t said, “we want kids who love to read,” just good reading scores). So why are we surprised when they drill kids on reading tests?

Bottom line: schools will never realize the power of technology until they get out from under our current way of holding them accountable. We need accountability, but what we are now doing is stifling learning and teaching. It’s making public education worse, not better.

41 Responses to “The intersection of technology and test scores”

  1. Joe Beckmann 13. Sep, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

    Asking NSVF to be innovative is like asking Bill Gates. Their innovations are close to what they’ve experienced, and nobody has yet experienced universal access to information – except the under 20 generation.
    Nobody knows how to teach to that standard. Nor, as you point out, how to assess or evaluate what they do with that generation.
    That suggests a really radical opportunity is perhaps the only chance to break through: ask that generation what they learn! You’re successful if they learn “a lot” and use that learning in “a lot of ways.” You fail if you just pour “old wine in new bottles.” The wine has changed to a new tangy flavor, and the bottles don’t hold it very well.
    I discovered that in a class last Spring. Every week I’d pull up some historic films, we’d look and talk and explore what the films were about, and why the film-makers chose those topics. It was actually an innovative and positive way of doing what “Bad Teacher” does so badly.
    One evening I was a little late – talking with the principal – and, when I entered, my students were teaching each other. They’d pulled up – breaking the school’s policy regarding YouTube in the process – some excellent documentaries on “The Illuminati” and were looking, talking, and excitedly debating the influence of “bad guys” on “good politics.” It was excellent. I sat to the side, as any Montessorian might, and watched. About two thirds the way through the class they all paused. One said, “We’ve only got one more class!” And, almost in chorus but clearly not rehearsed, they surprisedly asked me, “can we have more classes, this is just great!”
    That’s a lot better than good scores on a bubble test. I’ve never before seen that, and it does, in fact, set a new standard for teaching.
    Those “common core” standards ain’t got nuffin’ on the kids today.

    • Andrew 13. Sep, 2011 at 5:50 pm #

      This isn’t kids today, it’s people in general — if something interests you, you’ll want to spend working on it and learning more about it. We have to get over the idea that this is some generational thing — it’s not. It’s not the computers, it’s the freedom to explore that you admire, I think.

      But what’s your point? Are you saying that geometry and calculus and poetry and chemistry and politics don’t need to be taught to kids who aren’t interested? If so, you need to talk to your legislators, because they are not on the same page — they’re not even in the same book (or web site).

      • john merrow 13. Sep, 2011 at 10:41 pm #

        Kids need a good foundation in math, poetry and politics. I think there are wonderful ways of teaching those and other subjects that challenge and engage. I am not suggesting that adults just throw up their hands and leave kids to their own devices.
        But just take history, for example. Digital records are available–so why not have students take responsibility for writing the history of one building, two Civil War soldiers, et cetera? They then are not ‘studying history’ but are in fact becoming historians.
        Much has been written about this, so I won’t go on. My point in the blog is that our unimaginative approach to accountability is stifling everyone…

      • Andrew 14. Sep, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

        Hmmm. I would like to hope that kids need a good foundation in math, poetry and politics, but I’ve come to believe that it’s not really true. People like me (and you, I bet) who are interested in lots of things tend to see importance and value in all these disciplines, but many do not, and to pretend otherwise is self-serving. To deny kids the opportunity to be exposed to such fields is sad, but to require people to work on things in which they have no interest in hopes that they will acquire a taste really seems more like coercion than learning.

        I’m with you on your example — seems a worthy endeavor. But, but boy, that seems hard to do in a way that would work day-in and day-out. A school year is a marathon, not a sprint. If teacher’s aren’t provided with tools to help do this kind of thing, I can’t see it working unless they have no life other than school, and I’m afraid that if they are provided with a lot of material, it would end-up being contrived — wouldn’t have to be, but given history…

    • john merrow 13. Sep, 2011 at 10:37 pm #

      A wonderful story, Joe, and it’s what we need more of in schools

  2. SuSaw 13. Sep, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    Thanks for writing about what the NYT left out… I agree that there are a lot of virtues inherent to online learning and technology in the classroom. One asset to the growing business is that teachers/instructors can see what concepts students do or don’t comprehend. Individualized attention and course work can be tailored according to each students needs. I think adults would benefit if they simply better understood the “program.” Students live in a tech world, we should be teaching them how to use the tools well. The thinking part, creativity part, collaborative part, well, that comes w experience and will only be as good as their role models & strength of their coursework.

    That said, surely their are good programs and not so good. Again, this is where the adult
    decision makers/administrators/sales people come in. By now, ee know it’s not a question of tech or not, it’s both. The end.

    Tech

    And in the world of cheating, no doubt the test companies aredevising ways for students to take the tests online… Check the box online to mitigate erasures.

    • Andrew 13. Sep, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

      You’re going to teach kids how to use tech tools? No you’re not. They already know how.

  3. John Bennett 13. Sep, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

    It’s been a long time since I encountered “dander” being used … Two excellent points, John: use of technology and meaningful assessment. I’d be willing to bet that any research on level of learning would show that facilitated, student self-controlled learning (with access to technology of course) would lead to higher test scores pretty much irregardless of the testing tool; the approach leads to effective learning enabling the learner to do well.

    But if we seek how effective the learning is, I would suggest only one option really exists: the electronic portfolio. Yes, it is time consuming to evaluate but as I always heard growing up as did our children and now our grandchildren, “you don’t get something for nothing.” I was fortunate to work with lots of great people under the leadership of Wende Garrison at AACU on the VALUE Program – developing and calibrating rubrics for use in assessing reports. I was on the Problem Solving Team. I’m sure similar rubrics could be developed and tested for use relative to the various goals of these electronic portfolios.

    If the venture capitalists want to bankroll educational entrepreneurs, they should seek those seeking to bring artificial intelligence using well conceived and well-tested rubrics to the
    electronic assessment of these electronic portfolios.

    • Joe Beckmann 13. Sep, 2011 at 11:57 pm #

      I’ve now worked with electronic portfolios in three cycles with three different sets of kids – all city-kids, mostly multilingual, working class/middle class/immigrant. Their e-Portfolios show several remarkable and extraordinary themes. First, they include both in-school and out-of-school illustrations, from work, play, sports, teams, performances, and even lonely poetry writing when depressed. These illustrate aspects of growth most teachers find astounding, both in student sophistication, multimedia literacy, and, more relevant, in how their students “actually use” the information from classes to solve daily problems – whether in recipes for larger groups or beats in rhythm, lighting, pacing or cuts on video or simply much, much better writing since they really want to communicate.

      Second, they reflect projects that cross subjects and disciplines, and thereby show how one discipline influences others. Whether they are sculpting in a welding class or illustrating a poem with music and art, high school kids actually think visually, tangibly, and engagingly when they actively assess themselves, and reflect on those assessments.

      And third, they really like the opportunity to reflect on how “soft skills” – skills with others, skills that build on themes like responsibility, teams, inquiry, negotiation, etc., and skills that involve them with others – give focus to their achievements, and help them compare – favorably and without envy or competition – their work with the work of others. They celebrate that work rather than fear some external accountability.

      None of this denies tests, nor does any of this intend to be all things to everybody. But it does involve students in constructing their own vision of themselves, of how they fit and what they can learn from each other, and, perhaps most remarkably, how they respect and celebrate their best teachers in showing off their best work.

      Oh, yea, e-Portfolios are quite the thing. The template they actually derived, in joint planning with their teachers, is this https://sites.google.com/site/shseportfolio/home. And they’re now using it school wide. And, unlike the standardized tests it supplements, it uses open source software and doesn’t cost anything at all!

    • Joe Beckmann 13. Sep, 2011 at 11:59 pm #

      I’ve now worked with electronic portfolios in three cycles with three different sets of kids – all city-kids, mostly multilingual, working class/middle class/immigrant. Their e-Portfolios show several remarkable and extraordinary themes. First, they include both in-school and out-of-school illustrations, from work, play, sports, teams, performances, and even lonely poetry writing when depressed. These illustrate aspects of growth most teachers find astounding, both in student sophistication, multimedia literacy, and, more relevant, in how their students “actually use” the information from classes to solve daily problems – whether in recipes for larger groups or beats in rhythm, lighting, pacing or cuts on video or simply much, much better writing since they really want to communicate.

      Second, they reflect projects that cross subjects and disciplines, and thereby show how one discipline influences others. Whether they are sculpting in a welding class or illustrating a poem with music and art, high school kids actually think visually, tangibly, and engagingly when they actively assess themselves, and reflect on those assessments.

      And third, they really like the opportunity to reflect on how “soft skills” – skills with others, skills that build on themes like responsibility, teams, inquiry, negotiation, etc., and skills that involve them with others – give focus to their achievements, and help them compare – favorably and without envy or competition – their work with the work of others. They celebrate that work rather than fear some external accountability.

      None of this denies tests, nor does any of this intend to be all things to everybody. But it does involve students in constructing their own vision of themselves, of how they fit and what they can learn from each other, and, perhaps most remarkably, how they respect and celebrate their best teachers in showing off their best work.

      Oh, yea, e-Portfolios are quite the thing. The template they actually derived, in joint planning with their teachers, is this https://sites.google.com/site/shseportfolio/home. And they’re now using it school wide. And, unlike the standardized tests it supplements, it uses open source software and doesn’t cost anything at all! So the VC guys can keep their money in their pockets while these kids run circles around their so-called investments.

  4. Andrew Bell 13. Sep, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

    Putting the issue of testing aside for a minute, I’m not sure what you would see as the benefit of computers in school.

    Are the uses that John Tulenko highlighted uses that you would advocate? I’m not sure that making a movie, podcast or making a digital comic book is allowing the students to follow their interests, which is what I believe you do think is important. Does setting the poem to music improve learning of poetry – is learning about tone in poetry important?

    My experience in trying to learn things using the Internet is pretty dismal. The superficial information is there. The in-depth information is lacking. I still want a book, or even a lecture, if it’s a good one, or someone knowledgeable to talk to. It’s incredibly frustrating to have to look at 100 web sites with the same info when I’m trying to get the answer to a question that I have.

    So, what is the best way to take advantage of computers at school?

    • john merrow 13. Sep, 2011 at 10:45 pm #

      John Tulenko’s report simply showed what many schools are doing. It was not intended as an endorsement.
      To be candid, I was not impressed because I thought that most of the energy there was spent doing stuff that could have been done without technology, or to ‘engage’ kids, or to deliver more efficiently what the adults have decided kids need to learn to pass state tests.
      However, many people have gone on line to view the piece. I would be interested to know if those viewers intend to duplicate that school district, but, alas, we have no way of knowing that.

    • John Bennett 14. Sep, 2011 at 12:27 am #

      If the computer is used to LEARN SOMETHING as in facts, there are not good reasons to use computers, I agree. BUT if computers are used to INVESTIGATE, to GATHER and ORGANIZE new material, computers are or should be front and center. The first is contrived and teacher-centered while the second is motivating and student-centered. Of course there are facts one needs to learn (core knowledge) that really don’t fit with computers – but these need to be selected well and are probably smaller in number that first thought. When “dirt was clear” – so long ago, dirt wasn’t dirty yet, when I was in school in Pennsylvania, I had to learn all the counties of my home state,where they were on a state map, and what city was the county seat for each one. Though Pennsylvania probably thought this to be core knowledge at that time at least, I didn’t understand the reasons then and still don’t – haven’t even seen them to be a category on Jeopardy!

      • Nancy Welsh 15. Sep, 2011 at 5:55 pm #

        Hi. I was a kindergarten teacher for 32 years, and my students often successfully and happily used computers to learn or practice something. Drill and practice to assist with acquiring a skill such as letter recognition or letter sounds was much more interactive and interesting done via appropriate literacy computer games, than by using methods such as flash cards. Drill for learning other skills such as multiplication tables in higher grades is also preferable on a computer. I see the use of technology in the schools as needing to be three fold. 1. For drill and practice during work stations time (as opposed to busy work such as worksheets or workbooks) 2. Learning to use the computer as a tool. Learning keyboarding, creating web pages and portfolios, using the calculator, thesaurus and so forth. 3. Investigating, gathering and organizing information. When this is done, it often needs to be done in a computer lab since instructors must be able to monitor all the students and where they go on the web. In spite of blocks, there are still many ways students can, even if done inadvertantly, end up in dangrous or inappropriate sites. I think the use of computers needs to be a healthy mix of all three uses. Teachers need to make careful, deliberate decisions about when and how to use technology effectively and meaningfully.

    • John Bennett 14. Sep, 2011 at 12:37 am #

      By the way, if 100 websites have the same information without acknowledging sources,that plagiarizing. Most time, those 100 sites will have some different information, be written from a different point of view, and more frequently have conflicting information. Good experiences for students to have: investigating, developing one’s viewpoint on the conflict, and using / reporting honestly and fairly on that viewpoint.

      • Andrew 14. Sep, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

        No, it’s not plagiarizing. Plagiarizing is attempting to pass off someone else’s original idea or words as one’s own. Having a web site that reproduces common information on some subject isn’t plagiarism. Here’s one I thought of this morning: “What causes a bunion?” You can find lots of sites repeating the same information (without reference) over and over, but it’s really hard to find detailed information or links to studies or definitive information. This has absolutely nothing to do with developing a viewpoint — it’s about learning the truth, or at least as much truth as is known.

        I get a little concerned with “student-centered” because if one isn’t careful, it can get to be about discussion and opinion without the breadth of knowledge necessary to have an informed discussion. I heard a government teacher excitedly talk about student-centered learning acknowledge the need for core knowledge and gave as an example “knowing the six functions of government.” I don’t know what the six functions of government are, but I bet I can think of a seventh.

  5. john thompson 13. Sep, 2011 at 4:09 pm #

    Great post about an equally great NYT article. Regarding the “bottom line,” I didn’t see a dime’s worth of difference between your outstanding analysis and Tulenko;s outstanding reporting. You two were equally professional, within your genres. I only have one minor quibble with your analysis, and that is in regard to venture capitalists. I suspect we’re going to continue to provide the type of education you (and I) want for the kids of venture capitalists, as they continue (mostly due to ignorance of how the other half are schooled) to use computers to recreate Henry Ford’s assembly lines and to turn inner city schools into an unfunny version of I Love Lucy when she was overwhelmed by the line.
    But, Joe Beckman made such a great comment, I’ll just second him.

  6. Joan Jaeckel 13. Sep, 2011 at 11:18 pm #

    John, you inadvertently demonstrate how the so-called “privatization” of public education happens: when government buys tests, textbooks, software and hardware from private corporations and force principals to use those and only those resources. When public corporations sell snake-oil to governors at Achieve meetings. Big Pharma meet Big Edu. That’s why spending on actual, breathing teachers and their professional re-education as 21st Century educators is so nil. Non-profit charter school developers – and any teacher or principal who takes a stand for DIY education – take the system back from the edu-business monoculture. .

  7. Ted Kolderie 13. Sep, 2011 at 11:38 pm #

    In the NYT article Karen Cator made the appropriate points. The article was basically silly. But of course lots of people have proposed to evaluate schools by their test scores, haven’t they?

    On this point go to the ETS website and read Stephen Raudenbush’s Angoff lecture from a few years back. If I understand him correctly he says that to define school quality as mean-proficiency-scores is scientifically invalid and intellectually indefensible.

  8. Chana 14. Sep, 2011 at 12:34 am #

    Just one quibble-I think you’re right in most of what you say, but I wouldn’t say that educators are inherently reactive or slow on the uptake. ( I certainly don’t think that I am). I think that educators in public schools work in an environment where they have to HIDE anything they do that isn’t reactive. And where they might get fired if they’re found not towing the line. There are teachers who are closing their doors and doing other things, probably great things, but if the NYT published anything about it, those teachers would get fired. And there are teachers who have been fired probably for doing exactly what you say needs to be done with technology. Current emphasis on high stakes testing is really limiting what teachers can do in that respect.

  9. Richard Munro 14. Sep, 2011 at 12:48 am #

    You wrote that barn door is off the hinges and the the horse is long gone. As long as adults’ jobs and students’ promotions and graduations are determined by test scores, there will be cheating. Students can use wireless devices to share answers, for example, while ‘fully certified’ proctors can still nudge nudge wink wink their way around the room, helping students pass.”

    I have been a teacher for more than 25 years and I have been a proctor for ETS exams. If a student uses a cell phone or has one powered on we are supposed to mark the tests invalid.
    For those tests (unlike state STAR9/CST’s) we have less than 15 students per class room and heightened security so that cheating is lessened. The real problem is that it is easier to cheat on bubble tests and that bubble tests encourage cheating and superficiality. I am one of the last of the old guard who does not give ANY bubble tests or multiple choice tests on his own. But I have to give state and local benchmarks. I don’t like it and I don’t think the tests are secure. Students who know nothing and do knowthing get 99% and 100% on these tests.
    I am required to count these test as part of their grade. Of course, If I can prove they are cheating or discover they are cheating I can invalid their tests. But on these tests -unlike tests I make myself- it is almost impossible to prove cheating. I personally do not care a fig what my students get on these tests and I could not be bothered to “correct” their answers. But it would be easy for me to do so. There is only one thing i can do and that is give other tests and give less weight to these benchmarks. But the whole momentum is for giving these easy to grade tests as a minimum requirement. I can’t say for certain who or who isn’t cheating on state exams or ETS CAHSEE exit exams or AP exams. All I can say is that tests that are NOT 100% multiple choice are more difficult to cheat on. All I can say is that I have HEARD of cheating during AP tests via cell phones and electronic devices during bathroom breaks. The students who told me this were absolutely trustworthy and reliable but otherwise I have no knowledge or direct information about such cheating. I myself have never caught a student cheating during an ETS/CAHSEE (exit exam) testing I have proctored. Students are closely monitored at school sites in my school district that I have seen. The real problem is as I said before is that scantron tests are academic junk food. Unless the tests are at least 50% essay or oral they are suspect in my opinion. If I were king I would abolish the use of scantron tests entirely. As a writing teacher I teach reading and writing without any multiple choice tests. Even when I show a movie I require that students discuss the film and write out their answers in complete sentences and short paragraphs. Students who might get “100%” on a multiple choice test often can’t be bothered to complete more complicated worksheets.

    Nobody every learned English or a Foreign Language (speaking,listening, reading and writing fluently at the level of an educated native speaker) by merely filling in bubble tests. There is no royal road to fluency and precision in langauge. That comes from hard work, practice, and close correction by a highly qualified teacher. Bubble tests by definition do not provide close correction by the teacher. Most importanly it removes the teacher himself from the process of correction and so the teacher himself learns LESS about the student weaknesses. When I taught CAHSEE English, ELL or AP Spanish I have always known the strengths and weaknesses of my student intimately. Teachers who rely too heavily on standarized scantron tests do not get to know their student’s academic strengths and weaknesses intimately. Bubble tests are academic junk food. They provide a cheap and easy dipstick but should not be relied on. It is a colossal mistake to take away and degrade the authority of a classroom teacher to rate his or her students.

  10. Hugh 14. Sep, 2011 at 2:23 am #

    It pains me to hear educators still going in circles about this after thirty years. All sides of this issue have been understood for years, but not by education policy makers or, it seems, by education journalists (Times or PBS).

    It’s actually quite simple: children’s learning, enlightened technology (think video games), and the 21st century world are all horizontal (adaptive, “empower and connect”) systems. Schools are vertical (inflexible, “command and control”) systems. Thus schools are quite compatible with logistical technology but incompatible with enlightened technology. That’s why virtually all examples given here are pretty much non-starters.

    There is a way to fix this. Reinvent teachers as creative professionals, not programmed tradespeople. It takes a couple of years, but it can be done and has been with hundreds of teachers. And when teachers change paradigms, they become the most creative of professionals. Then they use technology in spectacular ways.

    The tragedy of education in the United States (and especially of education journalism) is that no one with a megaphone understands this simple concept, so widely understood outside education’s failure box.

  11. Gail V Ritchie 14. Sep, 2011 at 4:14 am #

    While I agree that technology is frequently not used in creative, innovative ways in today’s schools (the ones lucky enough to have it, that is), I disagree with two points John made:
    1. Many educators ARE creative and innovative. It’s the education system that is resistant to change.
    2. Bringing in non-educators and thinking they’ll be catalysts for change is not the answer. With their money comes too many strings tied to their personal notions of “what works” rather than any actual, educationally-sound ideas. Exhibit A–Bill Gates and “Small schools.”

    Now, if these venture capitalists were willing to provide the money, stay our of our way, and let smart educators (like my fellow TLNFers Nancy Flanagan, Bill Ferriter, Renee Moore, and Susan Graham, to name a few) figure out how/where to get the biggest bang for the bucks, that would really be something!

    • john merrow 15. Sep, 2011 at 4:48 pm #

      I said that education leaders did not climb the ladder by being creative or innovative but more likely by being appropriately reactive. I was not writing about teachers….many of whom are subersively creative, bless them.

      I stand by my point: it’s the assessment system, narrow and cheap, that is the major obstacle to change.

      You, Nancy, Bill, Renee and Susan ought to go to the NSVF with a proposal for developing a multiple-measure approach to accountability. That’s my challenge to you. Then let’s see what they say. You can’t criticize them for not giving you money if you haven’t asked, if you haven’t come up with a proposal and a plan for them to evaluate. They are far from stupid, those folks.

  12. Dan Everett 14. Sep, 2011 at 1:30 pm #

    At the risk of appearing to be simplistic about this, I think the basic problem is that too many people believe technology itself is the solution to whatever education issue is being addressed.

    Today’s technology may be more sophisticated, but ultimately it’s still just another tool. How the tools are used is what is important. Improving our education system requires a rigorous underlying curriculum and smart, engaged educators at all levels who know how to employ tools effectively.

    • john merrow 15. Sep, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

      and a willingness to give up control….

  13. Annabelle Howard 14. Sep, 2011 at 5:45 pm #

    At the risk of appearing self-promoting . . . I am a teacher-turned-ePublisher. I created a website used in CT that has raised test scores and a little fun. Harold Levy, an ex Chancellor of NYC schools, called it a “motivational learning community.” It’s called TestPrepFUN and definitely has its limits. Last year, 17,000 CT students were enrolled.

    Right now, I’m creating AmericanLearningLeague which will also become a motivational learning community–this time, a national one that supports the Common Core State Standards. We are a lean start-up and will be launching our first “event” when we present at the CECA (Connecticut Educators Computer Association) conference in October. For a preview, see http://www.my400words.com. We help kids enjoy collecting words.

    Having kids work towards having a big, fat vocabulary that has cultural and academic context is a good thing. What they do with those words is their choice! Our pedagogy comes from BRINGING WORDS TO LIFE, a book cited in Appendix A of the ELA CCSS.

    The chance of success is increased when a tangible goal is set. Research says 12th graders who learned 400 words a year transition well to college or the workplace. Then, let’s encourage every child towards that goal. Game on!

    We take the tired, old, much-maligned bubble test and re-purpose it. It’s subtle. Our instructional quizzes look like bubble tests at first glance. Format-wise, yes they are. Content-wise, not even close.

    My partner in this venture used to be the Executive Editor of My Weekly Reader and an editor of a Scholastic magazine. He was the first person in educational publishing to get exclusive face-to-face interviews with the major presidential candidates in 1996. With funding, we can make a huge difference.

    We are looking for an appropriate capital partner.

  14. alfonso orsini 15. Sep, 2011 at 5:06 am #

    confucius (the little known closet constructivist)
    to learn without thinking is labour in vain
    to think without learning is desolation

    look at sugata mitra’s work with tech- the whole in the wall in the slums of India and then retirees teaching english to kids in rural schools on line and then kids doing independent tech assisted inquiry in British primary schools.

    parent at international school in shanghai:
    My first grade son was writing at dinner last night so I asked what are you doing.
    “Preparing my presentations about our trip to the great wall.”
    Mom: ‘what are you writing?”
    “Questions I need answers to”
    Mom: “what are your questions?”
    “Well, how did they make it without trucks and stuff? And why did they make it? And why did they put it where it is?”
    Mom: “How are you going to find out?”
    “I’ll google it.”
    Still and always John, you rock.
    Alfonso Orsini

    • john merrow 15. Sep, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

      thanks for the reminder about Mitra’s remarkable work and for the great anecdote–and the kind words too

    • Andrew 15. Sep, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

      It’s great that the kids are interested in figuring out answers to these questions, but is this better than saying “I’ll go to the library and look it up”? It’s more convenient to use Google, but is there any other advantage? Maybe there is. I’m just wondering.

  15. john merrow 15. Sep, 2011 at 6:21 pm #

    Cut some slack here. This is a FIRST grader, and he’s formulating questions and taking responsibility for finding answers. Did you do that in first grade?

    • Andrew 16. Sep, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

      I’m not giving anyone a hard time. I’m asking about the advantage of the Internet access versus more traditional information access. That’s all. Read what I wrote.

      If one answer is that using the Internet makes information more accessible to younger children than a library, that’s a fine answer. It’s a good argument for getting this access into the hands of young kids.

      • john merrow 16. Sep, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

        There are possible advantages, which are also opportunities that might be missed. Kids–digital natives–are growing up in a virtual flood of information. They need guidance in sorting and sifting, separating wheat from chaff. Just because it’s on the internet does not make it true, even if they find that same information repeated a dozen times. In fact, they are likely to find it repeated and repeated.
        The challenge for adults is to help them develop what Debbie Meier calls ‘the habits of mind.’ What do you know, how do you know what you know, and so on.

  16. LindaS 19. Sep, 2011 at 1:43 am #

    The one place where technology makes a HUGE difference is science classes. The electronic equipment is a time-saver for both student and teacher. It allows us to perform more sophisticated and real-world experiments. It allows collaboration between math and science teachers. I use what is available in my school regularly, and it makes all the difference in comprehension.

  17. Ted Dintersmith 27. Sep, 2011 at 2:13 am #

    For a really creative TED Talk on the use of computers in math education, take a look at http://www.ted.com/talks/conrad_wolfram_teaching_kids_real_math_with_computers.html. Far too often, technology is used to make uninspiring teaching techniques more efficient. But it’s very possible for subjects to become far more compelling for students through the use of technology — while better equipping them for life in the 21st Century.

    Thanks for sparking such a great discussion!

  18. Hilary 07. Oct, 2011 at 2:59 am #

    John I’m glad to see you writing about this article. I stumbled across the same one while doing some research for PR pitches. I work with private schools in NJ who all have iPad programs (and various other instructional technology initiatives) and who are not confined by the results of standardized tests to evaluate student (and school and teacher) performance. Kids learn in so many different ways and this is a generation of hands-on/tactile learners. With that said, the role of the teacher is changing as well and they need to be willing to learn how to teach with technology in order for it to be effective, otherwise you have an example of misuse like you described above.

    I recently observed a class at one of my schools where the teacher used a QR Code start the lesson, the students raised their iPads to scan the code and open the lesson, and they then used a few iPad apps to complete the activity. Their final task included an audio recording of their conclusion which they were to email to the teacher. I found it fascinating at how easily the students (7th graders) toggled between technology tasks and managed to stay on task and remain engaged with the teacher and other students. It makes sense for schools to adapt their curricula to the growing use of technology.

    Another thing to note is character education resulting from technology instruction. As the technology director of an all boys school I work with said “Schools are in the business of making good people and we’re in the business of making good young men. They need to learn how to live correctly in a world where the right thing isn’t always happening. We need to give them the strength of conviction to do the right thing in the online realm as well.” You can’t measure that with a standardized test.

    Love your blog and look forward to more!

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