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Technology in schools is not a panacea

 Yesterday, The New York Times ran an excellent article questioning technology’s impact on student achievement. Despite investing millions of dollars into technology, an Arizona district has found its test scores stagnant.

Writer Matt Richtel sums up what’s going on:

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.

Richtel’s reporting is sound. He describes school leaders doing their best but making shortsighted purchases. He highlights that technology can distract as much as engage. And he emphasizes that having technology alone does nothing to improve learning; rather, teachers need to know what to do with it.

Still, even if technology does not directly lead to gains in test scores, I think it’s crucial to advocate for it in schools.

1. Schools should look like the world around them. There’s WiFi at McDonald’s and at the public library. Why not in most schools?

2. Schools should challenge the digital divide. One student owns a computer while another doesn’t. The first student is completing her homework more easily and suffers from less stress.

3. Schools should teach students how to use technology, to interact with information, and to be respectful online. This is also why we shouldn’t cut school librarians.

4. Teachers should be treated as professionals. And professionals have access to technology to do their job.

While technology is important, it’s important to invest in the right technology. SMART Boards, which do little to disrupt traditional teaching, are not the same as laptops. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean we have to get it.

But figuring out “the right technology” is not an easy puzzle. After all, what’s current one day is obsolete the next. By the time a school researches a product, puts in the order, and gets the equipment installed, the gadget is old. In addition, all devices have pros and cons. Kindles are great for English class, but they’re clunky for science. iPads look beautiful, but typing on them is horrible.

My school struggles with our very limited technology budget. Sometimes, I feel like we can’t get past fixing our current computers and printers. Maybe I should be happy that we have computers and printers in the first place.

Meanwhile, my students live in a scattered technology state. They’re comfortable on Facebook but have trouble fixing a printer jam. They snap pictures and listen to music but haven’t seen a library database. They text like crazy but balk at sending a professional e-mail.

Even if technology doesn’t mean higher test scores, there’s still a lot to learn from it. 



  1. Steven

    I just found your blog, nice post. That Times article has generated quite a bit of discussion. I like your point about “Smart Boards” and the uses of iPads and Kindles. We try to teach critical thinking in our schools, but when it comes to technology decisions often the critical thinking is lost. Either items are written off as wasteful and useless by some, or on the other side any technology is good technology.

    We need to move forward with the integration of technology in our schools, but (wishful thinking), technology decisions should be driven by need; need shouldn’t be driven by technology decisions.

    Thanks for the post.

    • Mark Isero

      Thank you, Steven, for your comment. One of the problems I see is that there is little money, so when we get money, we get a little crazy with it. Of course, I’ve spent the last 5 years just trying to get wireless at my school. I’m pretty sure that’s not a bad tech buy.

Please share your brilliant insights!