Are Technology Initiatives in Schools Paying Off?

technology_in_schoolsAs more and more money is spent on technology in schools, some are beginning to wonder if additional technology is having a positive effect on student achievement. A recent article in the New York Times, and reviewed by Joanne Jacobs, describes a high-tech classroom in one of Arizona’s Kyrene School District schools where students are studying Shakespeare’s As You Like It by using laptops and utilizing Internet technologies such as Facebook and the music of Kanye West.

Classrooms in Kyrene boast top of the line technology funded by a ballot initiative passed in 2005. However, Jacobs writes that the laptops and Internet-enabled desks are having no measurable impact on the district’s math and reading scores. Since 2005, Kyrene has shown no improvement in standardized test results, while Arizona, as a whole, has seen some gains.

Schools around the country are investing money in outfitting schools with technology, an effort further encouraged by last year’s White House initiative called the National Education Technology Plan. The plan was designed to bring “state-of-the art technology into learning to enable, motivate and inspire all students.”

But what benefit students derive from having access to all that technology hasn’t yet been determined. Most studies that focus on the topic look at a muddy metric called “student engagement.” However, Jacobs quotes Randy Yerrick, the associate dean of educational technology at the University of Buffalo, who calls it a “fluffy” term which hasn’t been shown to lead to better student performance. This view is also echoed by Larry Cuban, Professor of Education at Stanford University.

At The Educated Reporter, Emily Richmond asked an elementary school teacher for his reaction to the Times piece. The teacher, whose classroom is fully fitted with what he calls “electronic bells and whistles,” said that he found all that technology distracting. His fellow teacher, from the classroom next door, however, said that not only were all the gadgets useful to the students, she found them to be a powerful aid in composing assignments and creative lesson plans.

However, the actual research supporting the link between digital classrooms and improved educational outcomes is thin. Former executive director for education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which provides grants for such efforts to schools across the country, conceded that the data supporting technology’s impact on student learning  “is pretty weak.”

Matthew Tabor

Matthew Tabor

Matthew is a prolific, independent voice in the national education debate. He is a tireless advocate for high academic standards from pre-K through graduate school, fiscal sense and personal responsibility. He values parents’ and families’ rights and believes in accountability for teachers, administrators, politicians and all taxpayer-funded education entities. With a unique background that includes work in higher education, executive recruiting, professional sport and government, Matthew has consulted on new media and communication strategies for a broad range of clients. He writes the blog “Education for the Aughts” at www.matthewktabor.com , has contributed to National Journal’s ‘Expert’ blog for Education , and interacts with the education community on Twitter and Google+.