by Max Brantley
Remember the little mini-flap the other day in which the Arkansas Democratic Party used the Internet to dig up a Harvard op-ed written 13 years ago by Republican congressional candidate Tom Cotton in which he blasted the educational benefits of the Internet? The Dems contrasted this with a press event by Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Darr touting schools with tech innnovations. Cotton quickly said he'd learned a lot in 13 years, that he now recognized the value of a maturing Internet and he said the Dems' criticism was a sign of his strength. (Beth Anne Rankin begs to differ.)
Anyway. Maybe Cotton should have stuck by his 13-year-old guns.
Article in the New York Times today raises questions about the assumed value of high-tech innovations in the classroom.
To be sure, test scores can go up or down for many reasons. But to many education experts, something is not adding up — here and across the country. In a nutshell: 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.
This conundrum calls into question one of the most significant contemporary educational movements. Advocates for giving schools a major technological upgrade — which include powerful educators, Silicon Valley titans and White House appointees — say digital devices let students learn at their own pace, teach skills needed in a modern economy and hold the attention of a generation weaned on gadgets.
Some backers of this idea say standardized tests, the most widely used measure of student performance, don’t capture the breadth of skills that computers can help develop. But they also concede that for now there is no better way to gauge the educational value of expensive technology investments.
“The data is pretty weak. It’s very difficult when we’re pressed to come up with convincing data,” said Tom Vander Ark, the former executive director for education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and an investor in educational technology companies. When it comes to showing results, he said, “We better put up or shut up.”