Excuse Me Commissioner Duncan, We Need More Than Stuff To Fix Our Problems

WASHINGTON - MARCH 1:  Secretary of Education ...
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
 (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

I read an interesting article by Associated Press writer Josh Lederman this week which highlighted the comments coming from Education Secretary Arne Duncan in regards to the need for all schools to quickly move away from printed textbooks.  While I am a supporter of moving to more modern resources in our schools, the rationale for the move coming from Mr. Duncan seems to be misguided to say the least.  

Check out the following excerpt:

“It’s not just a matter of keeping up with the times, Duncan said in remarks to the National Press Club. It’s about keeping up with other countries whose students are leaving their American counterparts in the dust.
South Korea, which consistently outperforms the U.S. when it comes to educational outcomes, is moving far faster than the U.S. in adopting digital learning environments. One of the most wired countries in the world, South Korea has set a goal to go fully digital with its textbooks by 2015.”

I am gravely concerned that the focus here is on technology rather than the quality of teaching and learning that is being reinforced under our current system which places too much of a focus on standardized testing.  While technology can help support good instruction, technology alone is not going to cause the change we need. Before we can adopt meaningful “digital learning environments”, we need to talk about the factors inherent in productive learning environments.

While it is clear that other countries have moved ahead of the United States in the integration of technology into their schools, it is also clear that we cannot catch up by just buying stuff and dropping it into our classrooms. Here is an excerpt from the Times of India that shows the thinking necessary to support the successful integration of technology into our classrooms:

“We did not implement the idea in a rush. We trained our teachers first and then we moved on to the students. We also talked to the parents and got them involved. The teachers have their own iPads and they create digital content for the students ,” informed GR Sivakumar, principal, DPS Surat.


iPad vs Textbooks
(Photo credit: Abstract Machine)

Plenty of examples of technology purchased hastily

We need not look far for examples of institutions in our country making the move to digital textbooks without doing the training necessary to support staff in utilizing these resources with students.  A recent study conducted on e-book usage at the college level highlighted this a couple of weeks back.   I hope I am wrong in thinking that the feelings of the students at these colleges will be the same feelings that many/most students in our public schools will be feeling do to the lack of resources dedicated to supporting staff in implementing digital tools.

“…the functions that make e-books more attractive to students than print books weren’t being fully maximized by faculty. Features like annotating texts, collaboration tools and the ability to share notes with other students weren’t being used or modeled by the professors. And if educators used the e-books like a print textbook, that’s what students did as well. “

The bottom line here is if we are going to spend the money on digital tools and continue to conduct business in the same tedious manner, we would may as well buy writing slates to pass out to all students and install inkwells on their desks.  Then again if we did that, we would not be ready to have our students take our country’s newest standardized test (PARCC) online in 2014-2015 as we are being asked.

So the good news is that the technology will allow us to administer standardized testing to our students hundreds of times during their K-12 experience

Anyone else feeling sick to their stomach?

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