Buy more technology! That is the take-home message of this next week’s special edition of Education Week, the American newspaper of record for K-12 education. They have released their annual "Technology Counts" edition and I have previewed several sections. Any school administrator will come away thinking they have to buy more technology or their students will become Neanderthals dragging their knuckles on the floor of the cave. Sadly, the report tries to make American schools "shovel ready" for pouring hundreds of millions of dollars down the bottomless pit of technological fixes.
Even at the university level, one of the most frustrating tasks of a chairperson is to sign off on the disposal of the massive amounts of electronics that was state-of-the-art just a few years ago. Over ten thousand dollars in computers and other electronic equipment bought just five years earlier, and it is "obsolete." It still works fine for basic word processing, gradebook calculations, and internet access and other teaching duties. But the new printers require USB ports. The internet needs faster speed to download websites. We need more memory for a wider range of souped-up 3-D graphics, or "our students will be hopelessly behind" say the teckkies.
And the new software, from the dominant company, is not forward compatible. So when the new edition comes out, and other agencies send you materials in the new format, you have to buy the new format too in order to read it.
Ka-ching! Between new computers and software, another hundred million dollars is pulled from our nationwide education budgets to go into the coffers of computer makers and the big software company that has a virtual monopoly on our software platforms. The perpetual modifications in technology, and the snake oil pitch that every little development is a classroom breakthrough that every school must have, produces a terrible waste of our resources.
Slow the turnover of equipment at a big high school and you can add five more teachers. At a big university, you could save enough money to add five more departments!
Why are schools constantly pushed to update too often? The party line is that the new generation of students is tech savvy and insists on the latest podcasting and wireless internet. But talk to students and you find they are more interested in good teachers and good classes. The fascination of administrators with "one-to-one" computing and laptop schools comes from another source: tech company propaganda.
No less than five separate monthly magazines have high circulations and end up on the desks of teachers, professors and especially high school principals and university administrators. They are free, produced on slick paper, and are loaded with hype about the next step in paperless textbooks, wi-fi education, and going beyond Web 2.0. They are pure commercial propaganda, funded by the computer and software manufacturers. Their mission is to generate an atmosphere that says your school will fail unless you have the latest technology. They have been laying this guilt trip on educators for the last decade.
They have their solution to the economic crisis for schools. Buy more new equipment, take the student online, package your teacher’s classwork in media, and discard that expensive teacher! The new students are ready to become"independent learners" on a new generation of computers. And if you don’t go along, it just proves you are a Neanderthal, not in touch with your new hi-tech millennial generation.
Yes, in hard economic times we do have to cut education expenses. This is the time for administrators to slow down the expensive turnover in computers and related technology. We can make use of a computer for more than 4-5 years if we "just say no" to that virtual reality simulator that takes a thousand times more memory, but really doesn’t accomplish any valuable educational function.
Now is the time to invest our limited dollars into keeping our best teachers, and not buy another batch of expensive upgraded equipment that we will trash in five years.
John Richard Schrock trains biology teachers and lives in Emporia.