Technology in Schools?

By Utah Lt. Governor Greg Bell 

In general, our Legislature approaches public education in a positive vein. Legislators’ perceptions of what “works,” and what doesn’t, differ vastly not only from each other, but from the perceptions of many educators, too.

One such disconnect is the feeling that the public education establishment uses the $3.5B of annual funding to maintain a system which has not, generally speaking, improved outcomes over the last twenty years. Yet, when legislators want to test or implement an innovative practice or technology, it “can’t be taken from the basic school funding”; rather, it requires its own supplemental funding, and is typically limited to a pilot program for a small number of students for a limited time.

You can see why legislators ask some hard questions: What are we buying for the billions we spend on the basic school program? Baby-sitting? Mediocrity? Same old, same old? One prominent legislator used this example: An alternative high school in the Washington School District includes in its population dropouts, formerly expelled students, prisoners, addicts, pregnant or single teenage moms, yet this school far out-performs most high schools in the state.  You can see why this legislator maintains it is not about the money, but about the methodology, educator/administration commitment, expectations, and learning style/technology.

Most of us believe that a major way to improve educational outcomes is through technology. Technological applications will allow individual students to proceed at their own pace. Many students will need less general class instruction, leaving the teacher free to work with individual pupils, especially those who are struggling. Students live and will certainly work in a “wired” world. It only makes sense that they learn in that same kind of environment. Consider the K-1 reading initiative, which has six program vendors compete to put their technology into schools. This competition drives the vendors to train the teachers for free so the teachers will use their product.

I suggest that we will achieve the best outcomes when the system embraces digital, individualized learning administered by highly-qualified teachers.

There are many obstacles. One is that it costs a lot of money.  Just imagine the costs of this list, which is not exhaustive: acquiring (and replacing every 3-4 years) a computer/tablet for each student, buying great instructional software, training teachers in technologically-based instruction, hiring sufficient tech personnel, installing sufficient wireless access in each school, and addressing the needs of students who have no computer or Internet at home. This technological transformation I envision must be part of an overall re-formation and a new vision in education. We cannot continue to adopt a program here and there, because innovation then becomes nothing more than a gimmick or a novelty. The Legislature must stand up when it comes time to fund this technology revolution in our public education system–and that time is soon!

Governor Herbert and I, along with our Legislature, want to move the needle of educational achievement among our students at every level. To make fundamental changes and attain an upward trajectory in dramatic fashion, we will have to embrace proven technology programs.