In parts one and two of a multipart post, Larry Cuban looks at why school districts buy new technologies when there is little or no evidence they do anything to improve student learning, especially when most are having major budget problems.
From part one, he notes that consumer spending on electronics in the US is up despite the continuing recession.
At the same time schools are purchasing more technology products while also laying off teachers, increasing class size, and cutting program.
Economists can probably tell you why families are devoting scarce resources to new and better technology devices but why are schools doing the same thing?
The reasons public officials most often give for these purchases, past and present, is that the electronic devices will transform classroom practices, student learning, and prepare students for jobs in a competitive global economy. So, school boards need to back up these reasons with solid evidence for spending public dollars on new (and replacement) technologies that promise significant changes in teaching, learning, and administrative practice.ï»¿
Where is that “solid evidence”?
The evidence for these electronic devices doing what is expected both in the U.S. and abroad is–as I read the research—at best, spotty–at worst, weak. Few careful and impartial observers of U.S., Europe, and Asia where governments have committed themselves to infusing technology into schools can say with confidence that the use of new technologies has led to increases in student academic achievement (as measured on either U.S. or international tests), altered substantially how teachers teach, or prepared students for to compete in an ever-changing labor market.
In part two, Cuban offers two reasons for this blind devotion to tech “solutions” that solve nothing: political and psychological.
This political explanation helps to make sense of why policymakers effortlessly skip over the lack of evidence to support major high tech expenditures. They figure that media photos of students happily clicking away on laptops—visible symbols—will trump the few research studies or critics who question purchases.
Turning from a political to a psychological explanation, districts buy technology because they suffer from “inattentional blindness”: They are too focused on a specific problem and lose sight of the big picture.
Or they suffer from some kind of blindness caused by salespeople promising tech-based “solutions” to whatever problem their schools might be facing without seeing if it fits in that big picture.
Of course, if the stuff looks good when photographed next to the superintendent, mayor, governor, and/or congressional candidate, so much the better.
Cuban, as always, makes some excellent points about our educational obsession with gimmicks. Â Take the time to read both posts.