A 2007 congressionally mandated study by the National Center for Educational Evaluation and Regional Assistance found that 16 of the best reading and mathematics learning software packages—selected by experts from 160 submissions—did not have a measurable effect on test scores. But despite this finding, the onslaught of technology in education has continued. The state of Maine was the first to buy laptops for all of its students from grades seven to 12, spending tens of millions of dollars to do so, starting with middle schoolers in 2002 and expanding to high schools in 2009.
The nation is not far behind. Though no well-implemented study has ever found technology to be effective, many poorly designed studies have—and that questionable body of research is influencing decision-makers. Researchers with a financial stake in the success of computer software are free to design studies that are biased in favor of their products. (I’m sure this bias is, often as not, unintentional.) What is presented as peer-reviewed research is fundamentally marketing literature: studies done by people selling the software they are evaluating.
For instance, a meta-analysis of the effectiveness of graphing calculators from Empirical Education Inc. reports a “strong effect of the technology on algebra achievement.” But the meta-analysis includes results from a paper in which “no significant differences were found between the graphing-approach and traditional classes either on a final examination of traditional algebra skills or on an assessment of mathematics aptitude.” In that same paper, calculators were marginally helpful on a tailor-designed test. The meta-analysis included the results of the specially made test, but not the negative results from the traditional exam.ake this gem from researchers at SRI International. They say that standardized tests don’t capture the “conceptual depth” students develop by using their software, so the “research team decided to build its own assessments”—and, of course, they did relatively well on the assessments they designed for themselves. Another example: A recent study by the Educational Development Center compared students who took an online algebra 1 class with students who took nonalgebra eighth-grade math. The online students did better than those who didn’t study algebra at all (not exactly surprising). But the online students weren’t compared with those who took a regular algebra class.
Despite the lack of empirical evidence, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics takes the beneficial effects of technology as dogma. There is a simple shell game that goes on: Although there is no evidence technology has been useful in teaching kids math in the past, anyone can come up with a new product and claim that this time it is effective.
And of course now teachers will be evaluated in part by how they integrate technology use into their lessons.
In NYC, who was most responsible for pushing the technology jive?
And what does Klein do for a living now?