Washington, D.C. — In Illinois, 37 percent of middle school math students regularly use computers for drill and practice. That’s well above the national average, according to a new report released today by the Center for American Progress. The report argues that in order to compete globally, students must be prepared to use computers in more advanced ways and sets forth a series of recommendations aimed at helping schools make the most of their investments in technology.
“Our findings suggest that many schools have yet to take full advantage of technology’s ability to improve the art of teaching and the process of learning,” said Ulrich Boser, author of the report and Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. “In classrooms across the nation, many students are not using technology in very sophisticated ways. Students are too often using computers to do drill and practice instead of more intellectually engaging activities such as using statistical programs or spreadsheets.”
Based on student survey data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Boser conducted an analysis of the 2009 and 2011 background surveys. In addition, he conducted a state-by-state survey of the websites of state departments of education during the first two weeks of February 2013 to see if states had conducted any evaluation of the return on their school technology investment. Here are some of the key conclusions:
- More than a third of middle-school math students regularly used a computer for drill and practice. In contrast, only 24 percent of middle-school students regularly used spreadsheets for their math assignments, and just 18 percent regularly used statistical programs in math class.
- These data varied widely across the nation. In Louisiana almost 50 percent of middle school math students said that they regularly used a computer for drill and practice. In Oregon that figure was just 25 percent.
- 73 percent of students reported regularly watching movies or videos in science class, with far fewer students actually using computers to develop their science skills or thinking skills.
Acknowledging that education technology holds significant potential to improve classroom practices and help students achieve learning goals, Boser identifies several key shortcomings that are currently hampering the success of school technology investments, such as:
- States are not evaluating what sort of outcomes they are getting for their technology spending. Boser’s analysis found that no state is looking at technology return on investment, instead the states only seem to be collecting data on the presence of technology.
- Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to have access to more rigorous technology-based learning opportunities. The report found, for instance, that black students were more than 20 percentage points more likely to use computers for drill and practice than white students.
Based on his analysis, Boser lays out the following recommendations to improve the school-technology utility and return on investment:
- Policymakers must do more to make sure technology promotes key learning goals by rewarding innovative use of digital tools and providing teachers with the training and resources they need to use technology successfully and effectively.
- Schools must address the digital divide. In many schools across the country, students from disadvantaged backgrounds are being given the least engaging and least promising technology-facilitated learning opportunities.
- Advocates must push for studies of the cost-effectiveness of technology to ensure that investments in classroom technology are producing positive student-learning outcomes.
In a world where local businesses, private companies, and nonprofit organizations all employ technology to boost productivity and improve outcomes, the report finds that the country has not taken full advantage of the ways that technology can be utilized to enhance the classroom learning environment. With proper reforms that measure education technology’s return on investment and that close the digital divide, schools can produce higher levels of student achievement and will receive the best bang for their educational buck.
Read the full report: Are Schools Getting a Big Enough Bang for Their Education Technology Buck?, by Ulrich Boser.
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