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In the Orchard of Education Technology

Posted on | June 7, 2013 | Comments Off on In the Orchard of Education Technology

Amending a PACE Policy Brief:

I got in trouble at a meeting recently for repeating the opening assertion of the policy brief I wrote for Policy Analysis for California Education. [View or download brief] As the brief says, “education technology has always over-promised and under-delivered.”  The assertion, which is reasonably backed up by history and research, drew critical comment from tech-enthusiastic teachers.  That, they said, must have been some other universe, or at least some other classroom!

But, indeed, the tendency of technology policy to concentrate on buying devices or bandwidth is a problem.  It substitutes the easy job of filling out purchase orders for the hard thinking and action involved in changing the learning system, and that is the potential we are offered by Internet-fueled technology.

After the brief went to press, I began to think about technology policy as an orchard.

First, pick the low overhanging fruit by investing in applications that help the most expensive and difficult parts of schooling, including Special Education, English Language Learners, and remediation.

Second—and this is the hard part—we should graft some new branches onto the existing tree of learning.  Technology can provide a new learning infrastructure.  Information, teaching, testing: all available direct to students, who are the real workers in the education system.

Third, we should trim back the intertwined roots of the institution.  Many writers on technology see regulation as the singular solution to the advance of new learning modalities.  I disagree.  But there are some important changes that should be made.

We should gradually move away from “seat time” funding and toward paying schools on the basis of achievement.  In my mind, this change is not so much an “accountability” requirement—“you don’t get paid till students can demonstrate they learned something”—as it is a productivity incentive, making it possible for students to move faster if they can without stigmatizing those whose progress is slower.

For a lot of students, high school and college could take seven years, not the eight or nine now required.

We should also move away from geographic exclusiveness.  Existing school districts and teachers should be able to offer virtual learning, which I see as much more the distribution of courses and lessons than whole on-line schools, statewide, not just in the confines of their school district or in contiguous counties.

I hope you’ll read and comment on the brief itself, which is available free from PACE in pdf form.   Technology policy is hard, and it will benefit from the thoughts of many contributors.


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Charles Taylor Kerchner is an Emeritus Professor and Senior Research Fellow at Claremont Graduate University. My daily musings appear in the blog. The archives of my EdWeek blog are available via link under the 'On California' head. Some of my photography can be seen by clicking on 'Gallery.' And numerous links to academic work and other research and commentary can be found by clicking on 'Projects.'


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