Thursday, December 15, 2011

Technology and the Schools in the Popular News

Technology and the schools has made the popular news on both sides of border in the past week or so.

On the one hand, the Globe and Mail has run a special section on education, with a discussion of the need to re-design primary, secondary, and tertiary education to take advantage of the technologies now available for teaching. 

On the other hand, the New York Times has published a couple of articles raising the red flags about all-online schools.  The first appeared in Gail Collins' column, in which she raises a red flag about too much technology in primary and secondary education, specifically raising concerns about the tendency for many states to outsource online school programs to the for-profit company, K12 Inc.--and the lack of research evidence on the effectiveness for children of learning full-time in an online environment.

She’s right to raise that flag. Although the research is clear that online learning is at least as effective as classroom learning, none of the studies were conducted in full-time, long-term environments.  Studies of long-term, full-time effects would, by necessity, need to look at side effects of learning, such as the effects on social development of spending most class time on the computer rather than with other children.

She also raised a red flag about the sales pitch used to generate enrollments in these online programs, positioning “online learning as an alternative to a violent in-school experience.”  See her column at

The Times  followed with an in-depth of the for-profit charter school industry this Monday.  Profits and Questions at Charter Schools by Stephanie Saul provides an-depth exploration of online charter schools, suggesting that they perform better on Wall Street than Main Street.  Among the measures on which the schools are underperforming include student-teacher ratios, churn rate (numbers of students enrolling then transferring out), and all-important standardized tests.

The article concludes that K12, one of the leading for-profit companies running these schools "a portrait emerges of a company that tries to squeeze profits from public school dollars by raising enrollment, increasing teacher workload and lowering standards."

View the entire article at

The common themes underlying all of these articles are that technology in the schools is still viewed as something separate and something to be viewed with suspicion, and that some of the implementations of technology--intended to promote its virtues--only deepen those initial concerns.  

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