Groundhog Day

by Robert Pondiscio
February 6th, 2012

Your humble blogger was quoted in a USA Today piece about last week’s Digital Learning Day to the effect that putting an iPad in every child’s lap is not a magic bullet and that we ought to give at least as much thought to the content we teach with technology as the gadgets themselves.

Over at The Quick and the Ed, Ed Sector’s Bill Tucker says my point that ed tech is not a “magic bullet” is correct but “debating this point gets us nowhere.”  Thanks, Bill (sort of) but I disagree. It is very much worth debating. Essential, even.  The central narrative around ed reform—accountability, teacher quality, technology, et al.—tacitly assumes that the product of American education (what kids actually learn) is settled and sound, and that gains in student achievement, when they come, will be a function of enhanced delivery: better teachers, smaller schools, improved technology, etc.

Isn’t it pretty to think so?

We’ve said it before:  The majority of reform efforts (including the focus on ed tech), whether by choice or indifference, seek the best possible delivery of the worst possible product.  And Tucker, a very bright and capable observer, strikes a mildly Panglossian chord when he writes that technology…

“…does provide the opportunity to shift power to educators, offering the possibility for not only more customization by teachers, but also access to a greater array of better materials. And, smaller publishers, including those who offer free content, such as Core Knowledge, may finally have a chance to enter classrooms based on the strength of their content, rather than their distribution and sales teams.

This translates into a belief that money and marketing are no match for the man who builds the best mousetrap.  I’d love to be wrong about this and see a kind of reverse Gresham’s Law take hold in schools, with good curriculum driving out the bad.  But the conditions are not ripe.  We’ve had generation after generation of teachers conditioned to believe that curriculum doesn’t matter at all, a common and misguided belief that knowledge is of secondary importance to skills, and an entire policy apparatus constructed around the idea that reading is a skill and that reading tests tell us something revelatory about teachers.  In short, the content of a child’s education–especially in the critical elementary years–and the connection between content and language proficiency remains stubbornly off the agenda.  All the iPads in the world cannot fix a fundamentally flawed concept of how to promote language proficiency in children.

Debating this point gets us nowhere? No, ignoring this point gets us nowhere.

I love that Digital Learning Day came on the eve of Groundhog Day, because I feel like I have seen this movie over and over again.  Wake me when it’s Digital Curriculum Day.  Until then, back to my burrow await the end of educational winter.  Oh, that it might be only another six weeks.