Report: Schools are Wasting Education Technology’s Potential

A report released by the Center for American Progress states that schools are not using technology in a way that benefits students. The United States is spending billions of dollars on technology in schools across the country, yet students are using the equipment for "lower-order skills" like practice and drill programs.

"Our findings suggest that many schools have yet to take full advantage of technology's ability to improve the art of teaching and the process of learning," said Ulrich Boser, author of the report and Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. "In classrooms across the nation, many students are not using technology in very sophisticated ways. Students are too often using computers to do drill and practice instead of more intellectually engaging activities such as using statistical programs or spreadsheets."

Boser analyzed data from National Assessment of Educational Progress student surveys from 2009 and 2011. He also ran a state-by-state survey of the state department of education websites in February of 2013 to see if they had conducted any evaluation of the return on their school technology investments.

He found that over a third of middle school math students use a computer for practice and drills on a regular basis. A mere 24% of middle school math students regularly use spreadsheets for their assignments and only 18% were in math classes that utilized statistical math programs on a regular basis.

Very few students reported using computers in science class to develop thinking skills or science skills, but 73% report routinely watching movies or videos in science class.

Boser acknowledges that technology holds the potential to help students with academic achievement, but he points out shortcomings that are currently stifling success. To start, he argues, states do not evaluate the outcomes they get for their technology spending, charging that currently states are only focused on the presence of the technology and not its return on investment.

Also, students from low-income or disadvantaged backgrounds have a lower chance of accessing technology-based learning. Boser points out that black students are 20% more likely than white students to use computers for drill and practice.

Boser makes three main recommendations based on his analysis. He advises that:

  • Policy makers need to do more to promote key learning goals, including giving teachers the proper resources and training they need to use technology successfully, and that schools must reward innovative uses of technology in the classroom;
  • Schools must ensure equal access to technology for students of all backgrounds;
  • Advocates need to evaluate to determine whether technology is producing a successful, positive outcome by conducting analysis about cost effectiveness.
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