wasting bandwidth since 1999

We Don’t Need Software

A new study released last week demonstrates that, without question, educational software is worthless.

At least that’s the impression you’d get from reading stories published last week in many news outlets.

Let’s start with the lead paragraph from the front page of the Washington Post.

Educational software, a $2 billion-a-year industry that has become the darling of school systems, has no significant impact on student performance, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Education.

Those very broad generalizations continue past the jump until the writer eventually gets to some details. It seems the researchers were only looking at 15 specific systems for teaching reading and math.

With a little digging, it becomes clear that the Department was studying instructional learning systems (ILS), expensive software that requires almost no teacher interaction.

However, even dressed up with fancy animation and complex management systems, ILS’s are, at their core, only drill and practice software.

And since most of these packages are directed squarely at drilling the material found on most state standardized tests, it’s somewhat surprising that they didn’t produce better results.

But the bottom line, missed by the reports I’ve read, is that computers and software are nothing more or less than educational tools.

The effectiveness of those tools depends on a well-trained teacher who is able to integrate them into a well-written curriculum.

educational software, ils, study


  1. Carolyn Foote

    There’s been a lot of discussion about this on Classroom 2.0 on Ning. I agree with your points, and worry that this study may be used as an excuse for not supporting software and web 2.0 use in schools

  2. Sylvia Martinez

    You are exactly on target with this in my opinion. The sloppy language found in all these headlines equating this type of software with all educational technology should be countered with examples of good software and good practice.

    I’m not surprised that this software doesn’t actually work as advertised – drilling kids on or off the computer just builds resistance and bores kids. It steals time from good teachers. It creates a false belief that the software will act as a safety net for teachers who aren’t qualified.

    These software packages intend to raise test scores no matter what the teacher knows or does. They are sold as being “teacher-proof” to attract buyers who want to avoid the hard work of teaching and learning. It’s just not fair to then turn around and blame teachers for not implementing the software properly.

    These packages are marketing vehicles, designed first and foremost for large districts looking for “solutions” that will deliver consistent results no matter how or where they are implemented. The purchasers are engaged in wishful thinking that vendors will deliver a magic bullet. Vendors comply.

    Take a good look at the list – there are no tools here:

  3. tim

    Our district pays big dollars for one of the packages in the study, the Waterford Early Learning Reading package.

    While the lack of effectiveness noted in the study is disturbing enough, what really bothers me is that this system is targeted at children in Kindergarten and 1st grade.

    Should we really be teaching young kids to read by sitting them in front of an expensive computer software for 20 minutes a day?

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