Teaching with Technology / Teaching toward the TestBy all appearances, 7th-grade English teacher Amy Furman seems to use technology well in her classroom. The opening anecdote of the NYT piece describes her class studying Shakespeare's As You Like It and working on constructing social media profiles and writing blogs for the play's characters. Furman's class appear engaged -- these are 12 year olds using the Web (and Kanye lyrics) to help understand a play that's some 400 years old. That's something for a which a good teacher is as much responsible for as a good Internet connection is, I'd wager. But that's the thing -- Furman's district has spent a lot to equip the schools' classrooms with laptops and Internet. It's spent millions of dollars on technology -- some $33 million over the course of the last 6 years. And now the school is looking for another $43 million from taxpayers over the course of the next 7 years. That's just 3.5% of the district's annual spending, but it's more than it spends on textbooks, as the NYT points out.
Test Scores and Technology BudgetsThe story does highlight the work of innovative teachers like Furman, but it also questions her efficacy along with that of the technology the district has implemented (no questions asked about how well spent that textbook money is, but I digress). Furman says she hopes all the money is worth it, but the story highlights the dearth of evidence to demonstrate that these major tech investments actually do much. "Hope and enthusiasm are soaring here," the story says of Furman's district. "But not test scores." Ah. Test scores -- the sole measure by which, apparently, we judge teaching and learning. Cathy Davidson, author of a recent book on learning and brain science, has a great take on the deep flaws with this approach:
"It is not the test scores that are stagnant. It is the tests themselves. We need a better, more interactive, more comprehensive, and accurate way of testing how kids think, how they learn, how they create, how the browse the Web and find knowledge, how they synthesize it and apply it to the world they live in. As long as we measure great teaching such as Ms. Furman's by a metric invented for our great grandparents, we give kids not just the limited options of A, B, C, and D in a world where they can Google anything, anytime. Worse, we are telling them that, in the world of the future, the skills they need, they will have to learn on their own. For, after all, they are not on the test."The NYT does point to Karen Cator, the Director of the Department of Ed's Office of Educational Technology in essence shrugging off the test scores: In places where we've had a large implementing of technology and scores are flat, I see that as great, she said. Test scores are the same, but look at all the other things students are doing: learning to use the Internet to research, learning to organize their work, learning to use professional writing tools, learning to collaborate with others. But it's fairly clear that Cator's bosses -- the Secretary of Education and the President -- see things differently. Test scores matter -- they matter so much we should assess teacher's performance and by extension base their pay on them.