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Well, according to this recent study, no, at least in terms of standardized math and reading outcomes. Two Duke economists use large scale data sets to investigate the impact of gaining access to computers and the Internet on children’s test scores in math and reading.  For computer ownership, they use a self-reported measure by students.  For Internet access, they use a proxy variable related to number of local Internet Service Providers.  In both cases, whether via home computer ownership or ISP access, they find a negative impact on individual student’s math and reading scores after gaining more home access to technology. The negative impact is greatest for African-American youth–for other groups, the impact is mixed (sometimes positive, sometimes negative, depending on the measure and group).  The authors interpret their findings as indicating that unproductive uses of computers tend to crowd out time spent doing homework, especially for low-income and minority students who may not have the kinds of social support needed for more productive uses of technology at home.

The differential impact of home technology by different groups is consistent with that find previously, for example, in our recent review of technology and equity among U.S. youth. It provides further evidence that the aim of our educational efforts should not be mere access, but rather development of a social environment where access to technology is coupled with the most effective curriculum, pedagogy, instruction, and assessment.

Jaime Escalante, one of the best known and most accomplished classroom teachers in the U.S. has died.  What lessons can we learn from his life in pushing forward with educational reform?  I think there are three — at least two of which will likely require a major restructuring of U.S. education to achieve on a mass scale.

1. Combining High Expectations and Culturally-Sensitive Teaching

Educational reformers have been divided between their emphasis on communitarianism (fostering greater respect for and among learners by addressing student needs, empowering students, creating a positive collaborative atmosphere, and teaching in a culturally sensitive and relevant way) and academic press (ensuring high academic standards through a challenging curriculum, high teacher expectations, and assignment of homework).  Escalante showed that both of these are important and was a master at combining them. We need to have the highest expectations and most rigorous standards, but we also have to teach to those standards in a way that reaches out to diverse students, understands and respects where they are coming from, and makes them feel meaningfully involved.

2. Highly Skilled/Well-Trained Teachers with Pedagogical Content Expertise

Similarly, there has been a divide between those who demand that educators have content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge.  Escalante, with a strong background in math and a teaching credential, demonstrated how both types of knowledge are required, and, what’s more, that they need to be combined in what Shulman called Pedagogical Content knowledge — that is, pedagogical expertise in a particular content area. (Or, in today’s world, what Mishra and Koehler call Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge).

3. Lengthening the School Day and Year

Escalante was able to achieve his goals only through immense personal effort, which involved teaching extra sessions for students before school, after school, and on weekends.  This was accomplished at great personal cost to him, as he suffered a heart attack in his early 50s during one of his busiest years.

How then an we scale up what Escalante achieved at one school to improve education nationally.  Of course we need to emphasize rigorous standards, high expectations, culturally sensitive teaching, and the development of pedagogical content expertise.  However, we will not be able to lengthen the school day or year without massive infusion of new funds for education, as we cannot rely on the personal sacrifices of individual heros on a national basis.  Nor will we likely be able to attract highly skilled teachers on a mass scale without improving their compensation.  Charter schools, such as those run by KIPP, claim that they can recruit talented teachers and extend the school day and week without adding to costs, but their ability to do so is shaped by their particular context (they are small in number, and they are not required to accept all students with special needs, English learning needs, or behavioral problems).  Such solutions are not feasible on a mass scale.

In summary, we need to improve our approach to educational reform, but also give public education a much higher priority.  Jaime Escalante’s lessons require not only new approaches, but also infusion of new funding.

For further information on these topics:

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054.

Phillips, M. (1997). What makes schools effective? A comparison of the relationships of communitarian climate and academic climate to mathematics achievement and attendance during middle school. American Educational Research Journal, 34(4), u. doi:10.3102/00028312034004633

Shouse, R. C. (1996). Academic press and sense of community: Conflict, congruence, and implications for student achievement. Social psychology of education, 1, 47-68. doi:10.1007/BF02333405

Shulman,  L.  (1986).  Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher, 15 (2), 4-14.

Warschauer, M. (2000). Technology and school reform: A view from both sides of the track. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 8(4). Retrieved from http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v8n4.html

Thank heaven there are adults in the White House.  The draft National Educational Technology Plan made available this week represents a highly informed, sophisticated, bold, and thoughtful approach toward improving U.S. education with new media.  In that it reflects the tremendous amount of talent, expertise, and experience of the plan developers, as well as the insight of the Department of Education leaders who recruited and advised them.

The report has many strengths.  It places educational technology within the proper context of reforming  education and better preparing our youth to lead productive and successful lives in the 21st century.  The report takes some important steps to moving beyond the skills/knowledge debate by putting forth the notion of 21st century expertise rather than merely 21st century skills.  It addresses the critical issue of assessment head on and at length, nicely tying together issues of measuring complex forms of learning, conducting more formative rather than only summative assessments, and using technology to provide more at-the-point-of-need assessment data to teachers and educational leaders.

The report also focuses nicely on the infrastructure that will be needed to accomplish all of this, including what it calls individual “access devices” for students and teachers (with suggestions about how family- and school-funding can be combined to make this possible), greatly expanded broadband in and out of schools, cloud computing, and Open Educational Resources.  Much attention is also put to better pre-service and inservice preparation of teachers to promote 21st century learning, and the ways that technology can assist this preparation.  A broad perspective is evident  throughout the report, with suitable reference to what has been learned from fields as diverse as neuroscience and business.

While this is a superb blueprint for improving education with technology, I believe it can be improved in a number of small ways.

(1) The very positive and needed attention to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education in the report matched by sufficient attention to literacy and writing.  This unfortunate given the critical role that writing plays in a knowledge economy.  Writing is not just a means of communication but a window to learners’ thinking processes, and an emphasis on expository writing has been shown to improve learning across the curriculum for diverse students.  And while the report claims that technology’s effects are most profound in STEM subjects (p. 22), studies suggest that the use of technology has the greatest impact on English language arts and especially on the teaching of writing.

A lack of sufficient emphasis on writing is perhaps tied to the report’s call for students to have “access devices,” rather than computing or communication devices.  I would suggest that, since writing is critical for learning, and keyboards are valuable for writing, it matters a great deal what kinds of Internet access devices students have, with netbooks, for example, having great advantages over cell phones.

(2) While the report has admirably emphasized the needs of reaching all learners, it could be improved in its discussion of ways to do so.  Again I believe the issue of literacy here is key.  The report emphasizes ways that students’ limited language or literacy skills can be compensated for, for example, by providing content in multimedia form.  However, Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which is suitably emphasized in the report, focuses not only on increasing students’ immediate access to content, but also in improving their long-term ability to successfully master academic discourse.  This, in turn, requires improved use of technology to extend students’ language and literacy proficiency, not merely to compensate for limited language or literacy.  Strategies for accomplishing this are not adequately discussed.

Also related to UDL, and to the above point about writing–learners with disabilities especially benefit from computer-based writing, since they often lack the hand-eye coordination for extensive writing by hand; yet this crucial use of technology was ignored in the section on learning disabilities.

(3) The report is a bit overly optimistic about the potential of online learning, especially with at-risk learners.  Though there is reference on p. 47 and p. 71 to the value of blended learning opportunities, in other places the report seems to downplay the challenges of online learning, emphasizing, for example, that the school day can be extended through online learning. Yet it is the most skilled and motivated learners function best in online environments, and this is especially true in home environments where learners from low-income families may lack the social support for effective learning with technology. An emphasis on increased online learning could thus magnify rather than overcome divides.

(4) There seems to be a bit too much undifferentiated discussion of engagement in the report.  The report is absolutely correct that fostering engagement is important, but differences between affective, behavioral, and cognitive engagement are not discussed.  As Michael Porter of Littleton Public Schools pointed out in a recent presentation, it is precisely because working with media engages students so much that we might be lured into thinking they are carrying out valuable learning tasks even if they are not.

There are a number of other very small ways the report could be improved throughout.  The mention of the goal that “all students…graduate from high school” (my emphasis, p. 2) by 2020 repeats some of the absurdly unrealistic language of No Child Left Behind (can “all students” be expected to do anything?).  The point that we expect students to be “skillful and strategic learners”  “rather than being content experts” unfortunately reinforces the skills vs. knowledge dichotomy that the report otherwise challenges; it would be much better to say “in addition to being content experts.” A Ready to Learn program for pre-schoolers  is mentioned without being explained, the excellent attention to Open Educational Resources and Cloud Computing is not accompanied by even a mention of open source software, and the main figure illustrating the report’s Model of Learning (p. 11) is  difficult to decipher. And finally, the important call to expand broadband computing lacks suggestions about how this might be accomplished.

I offer these suggestions in part because the document is circulating in draft form, thus implying that feedback is requested.  In fact, though, all of these suggestions for improvement taken together are relatively minor details in what is an exciting and important plan for improving education with technology in the 21st century.  If the reports’ recommendations are followed and backed up by funding, this could prove to be a historic document in transforming U.S. schooling.

Every movement has its true believers, and the Bush-initiated educational reform movement — which led to No Child Left Behind and a huge emphasis on state standards, testing, school choice, and market-oriented reforms — is no different.  Nobody lent more weight to these policies than Diane Ravitch, considered by many the leading educational historian in the U.S. and the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education in the Bush Administration.

Ravitch’s conversion away from these positions came slowly, but gathered steam in recent years until it exploded in her just-released book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education.

Ravitch’s critique of the testing and choice regime launched by the Bush administration and largely continued by the Obama administration is fierce and biting. It is based on her own thorough review about the failure of these policies.  She now critiques not only NCLB, but also the entire direction of the educational reform movement, including its emphasis on competition and charter schools.  In contrast to these failed policies, she looks around the world and notes what actually works in educational reform.  As quoted in the New York Times,

“Nations like Finland and Japan seek out the best college graduates for teaching positions, prepare them well, pay them well and treat them with respect,” she said. “They make sure that all their students study the arts, history, literature, geography, civics, foreign languages, the sciences and other subjects. They do this because this is the way to ensure good education. We’re on the wrong track.”

What this will mean for the school reform debate is as yet unclear.  But the entire intellectual basis of the No Child Left Behind movement has been critically weakened by the brutal attacks of one of its chief architects.

I’ve started to post most of my short notices, including links to my own new papers and other new things I come across, over on Twitter instead of here.  Follow me there.

Though the iPad seemed underwhelming to many people when it was first introduced last week, I think it’s longterm impact will rival that of other Apple innovations, such as the Apple II, the Macintosh, the iPod, and the iPhone.  Here’s why.

(1) A turning point for multi-touch.  I suspect that someday will look back on portable computing devices that don’t have multitouch as quaint relics of the past, like black-and-white or CRT monitors. It is clearly a much more intuitive and natural interface for computing, and Apple has now shown that a very high quality multitouch input system can be introduced to larger screens at a reasonable price.

(2) A new entry point for children’s computing. Parents throughout the country are reporting how easily children make use of the iPhone for playing games, again because of the convenient multi-touch interface.  I can’t wait to buy an iPad for my own young kids, and I imagine that millions of parents are thinking the same way, especially because the iPad will double as a general home media device (see below).  The  lack of access to flash-based content at first seems to be an obstacle, because so many children’s games on existing websites make use of flash, until one remembers the thousand of free or low-cost apps already developed for the iPhone — with many certainly under development for iPad versions — that do not require flash and are optimized for iPhone OS.

(3) Launching of a new genre of media device. Though in the long run the iPad, or the innovations it is based on, pose significance for the broader computing market, in the short term its main impact will be as a totally new kind of home media device, rather than as a computer replacement for those who already have computers.  Based in the living room rather than the study — and with easy transport to the kitchen, bedroom, or, ahem, the bathroom — the iPad will just sit around, ready to be picked up for a broad range of leisure activities, from surfing the Web to looking at a photo collection to reading newspapers to playing games to watching videos.  For families who already have a computer, it will not replace it but complement it.  For some people who don’t have or haven’t needed a computer, such as senior citizens, they just might find their adult children buying them iPads for the holidays this year.

(4) The end of print textbooks? I don’t think the iPad itself will spell the end of print textbooks, but it may help push things in that direction, especially in the college market.  The use of the iPad in K-12 will depend on broader and longer-term developments (see below).

(5) An eventual laptop/desktop replacement? I think the iPad will replace existing computers right now only in a handful of situations.  I do not expect, for example, school districts to start buying iPads instead of laptops or desktops en masse.  However, the iPad is clearly an opening salvo from Apple to remake the computer industry, turning away from bulky all-purpose operating systems to a very lean and nimble operating system geared to small, downloadable or online applications and online resources.  The iPad can do much of what people need to do with computers but much more quickly and easily, and consuming less power, and at a comparatively low cost–all with a very light and portable unit.  Eventually those design principles will make their way into laptop or desktop replacements, heightening the three-way contest between Google, Microsoft, and Apple for control of computing platforms.

Today, Google officially released the source code for Chome OS. The idea of the browser is to work “in the cloud”. All applications would be web applications (such as webmail, Google Docs, Microsoft Live, flash games) and most data would be stored off site. At the same time Google has been pushing it’s “Gone Google” campaign encouraging businesses to use Google’s products for their business, Google Apps.

What would the use of Google Apps on a Chome OS mean for Education? Many schools are wary of a one-laptop-per-child program because of replacement costs, home environments, or other issues. Schools may instead implement laptop carts, but then they face the problem of student data storage and the high cost of licensing applications. Another issue is keeping the network secure while still allowing students access to the data they need (their own, their teachers’, the web).

The Chrome OS is built around signing in to the Google network. This has already been accomplished on Google’s Android OS for mobile phones. A single sign on (on the phones this is done only during the initial setup) and all contacts, email, calendar, and other web-based information is available. In Chrome OS, a single sign on brings the student into the Google net (or possibly the school’s intranet) and then through a seemless interface out into the internet. One beauty of cloud computing already experienced by mobile users is the ability to access information through multiple devices, even transferring phones without moving any data. Chrome OS takes this a step further by allowing access to all this information through the same UI, Chrome browser.

Of course this places us in another awkward problem, this one philosophical rather than practical. How much do we trust cloud computing? Not only for the reliability (which Sidekick users can attest is not entirely reliable), but for privacy concerns. Should we allow Google, or any other company, to own the physical aspect of our data, including manuscripts, contact information, or financial information?

I observed some schools a week ago that were using Asus EEE PCs in the classroom.  At least from initial observations and interviews, it appears that these low-cost bring substantially the same benefits as higher-cost laptops, though at a greatly reduced price.  See my first-hand report over at OLPC News.

“The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decisionmaking, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”
Campbell’s Law, put forth in 1976 by Donald Campbell, prominent American social scientist and president of the American Psychological Association

As reported on Liliputing, NorhTec is launching a Gecko EduBook (PDF link) netbook with some fascinating features.  First, it uses a low power 1GHz Xcore86 CPU that uses just 1.2 watts of power.  On the one hand, this is a pretty low-power machine (in comparision, the Asus 901 Eee PC used n some school districts uses a 1.66 GHz processor), which will limit its capacity, but also allows many other interesting innovations.

For example, it can run on  AA batteries rather than more expensive lithium batteries.  It doesn’t require a fan, which brings down the power usage and weight.  Since the power supply is internal, you don’t need a real power adaptor, just a $2 cord to plug it in.   It’s also entirely module, allowing you to easily swap out the CPU and RAM and other components.  It comes default with Linux but can supposedly run Windows XP (if anybody is silly enough to want to run Windows on a low-power machine like this.)  NorhTec says the base models will cost as little as $200.

I expect that within three years, there will be an impressive range of sub $250 netbooks suitable for schools (with a number of models in the $150-$200 range), and financial obstacles toward integration of computers in U.S. schools will be much more easily overcome than today.