Is YOUR School Wasting Money on Technology?

In The Dumbest Generation, Emory University professor Mark Bauerlein literally eviscerates today’s kids.  His argument is simultaneously simple and scathing:  The students sitting in our classrooms are nothing short of complete failures because despite growing up in a world of incredible intellectual opportunity, they have made almost no progress on traditional measures of performance.

Right or wrong, Bauerlein believes that students who have always had access to the ideas, information and opportunities provided by the web should have higher SAT scores, higher rates of admission to colleges and higher GPAs once they get there.  AP courses in high schools should be chock-a-block full of the next generation of brilliant historians and chemists and linguists and mathematicians.  Remedial classes in colleges should be empty.

There’s nothing today’s kids shouldn’t know, Bauerlein argues, because learning in today’s world really IS easier — but that’s just not the case:

Whatever their other virtues, these minds know far too little, and they read and write and calculate and reflect way too poorly.  However many hours they pass at the screen from age 11 to 25, however many blog comments they compose, intricate games they play, videos they create, personal profiles they craft, and gadgets they master, the transfer doesn’t happen.  The Web grows, and the young adult mind stalls.

(Bauerlein, 2008, Kindle Location 1683-1685)

Bauerlein’s criticism isn’t JUST reserved for today’s kids.  He is more than ready to uncork on teachers and principals and school leaders who beg and plead and push their communities to spend heaping piles of cash on classroom technologies.

He calls us “ever-optimistic techno-cheerleaders” — blinded by the belief that if we JUST had more gizmos and gadgets and connections to the web, we could do wonderful things with our kids.  The truth, however, is that communities have gotten no REAL returns on the investments that they have made in classroom technologies.  We keep spending millions on everything from iPads to IWBs to 3D printers yet our schools remain places where learners stagnate.

As uncomfortable as Bauerlein’s cheap and dirty labels for teachers and students make me, I think there’s more than a little bit of truth in his arguments.

Communities that invest heavily in technologies for schools SHOULD expect to get some serious bang for their buck.  They DESERVE to see an increase in student achievement, engagement and motivation after spending millions on the very tools that educators insist are essential.  There OUGHT to be consequences for systems that are supported and yet fail by almost every metric to produce meaningful change.

And make no mistake about it:  Today’s schools really ARE failing.

Sure, high school graduation rates are up, but so are levels of student disengagment.  Seven out of ten high school dropouts report having lost interest in school by ninth grade — and MOST dropouts are convinced that they could have graduated if they actually cared enough to try.  Worse yet, an ever-increasing number of high school graduates need remedial classes in order to survive in college AND an ever-increasing number of college graduates are unprepared for the demands of the modern workplace.

So what can YOU do about all of this?  How can you push against Bauerlein’s criticisms and nurture the confidence of your kids and your communities?

Start by placing teaching and learning INSTEAD of technology at the center of your conversations about school change.  Ask simple questions like “What DO we want kids to know and be able to do when they are finished with our classes and schools and systems?” again and again.  Gather feedback from important stakeholders on just what “successful schools” would look like in action.  Develop new methods to assess the outcomes that your communities care the most about.  Provide constant examples of reimagined learning spaces that are meeting community expectations.

And quit selling the notion that technology is the key to improving schools. Obsessing about technology without pushing discussions about just what learning should look like in a hyper-connected world reinforces the flawed belief that change is as easy as buying every kid a Chromebook.



Related Radical Reads:

Note to Principals: Stop Spending Money on Technology

Does Your School Have Technology Vision Statements?

Are YOU an Ever Optimistic Techno Cheerleader?

3 thoughts on “Is YOUR School Wasting Money on Technology?

  1. Pingback: New Slide: Losing the Confidence of Our Communities |

  2. Michael Kaechele

    Hey Bill,

    I think this is mixing two different things here. I 100% agree that technology is not some magic cure that will make everything better. Better pedagogy that is student centered and inquiry based is what I believe will make schools better. That said technology is a powerful tool to allow students to do inquiry on their own. The web is full of amazing ideas and really is the cheapest way to get access to that much incredible information. I teach in a PBL school and I think that pedagogy makes our school a great place for students to learn. We are also 1 to 1 with laptops and I could teach without them, but it would be difficult and the access really does make our school better.

    The problem is schools/districts that just buy tons of tech without teaching teachers how to teach in a student centered way. So what I would argue is that not enough money is spent on teacher PD on how to change their teaching ways.

    The other issue that is mixed in here with the technology is the “schools are failing” narrative. I don’t agree that schools are failing by every metric. U.S. still leads the world in patents and creativity. Our universities are still among the best in the world attracting the best students from every other country in the world. Our society and economy are not perfect, but I think that the overall trend is upward and positive.

    The reality is that a part of our population has always been disengaged and dropped out of school. We have historically actually seen a decline in these numbers. The other sad truth is that there is a ton of inequality in our school systems with many suburb schools that are very successful and many urban and rural schools that are struggling and underfunded. The entire system isn’t broken; parts of it are. That’s what I don’t like about the “schools are failing” generalization. It simply isn’t true everywhere and ignores areas that we could learn from and use to improve the schools that are struggling.

    I also think we need to look big picture at the progress of society. Young people are still starting companies, getting patents, making scientific discoveries, and doing empathetic work to help those in need. I dislike blanket condemnations of a generation. Every generation has great leaders, regular people, and slackers. This one is no different. I don’t see the world slipping into another “Dark Age” because of how dumb this generation is. I see continued progress in every field as this generation of leaders joins the workforce.

    So I am optimistic about both future generations and better technology use in schools. Neither are perfect but both are trending in good directions.

    1. Michael

      Yes, Michael! Meaningful use of technology requires that we always have a specific purpose related to enhancing learning some how, not just throwing technology at a problem.

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