Saturday, May 05, 2007

Anything to keep students from learning

The average person on the street could have told you this 15 years ago, but some high school administrators are just discovering this now. The New York Times reports that school-issued laptop computers are "educationally empty" or worse:
Yet school officials here [Liverpool Central School District in New York state] and in several other places said laptops had been abused by students, did not fit into lesson plans, and showed little, if any, measurable effect on grades and test scores at a time of increased pressure to meet state standards. Districts have dropped laptop programs after resistance from teachers, logistical and technical problems, and escalating maintenance costs.
It's easy to see what attracts school districts to these types of programs in the first place. They are ruinously expensive, harm student's educational performance, and encourage the anti-social behaviors (cheating, hacking, pornography, video games) that will give them a life-long fear of learning. Basically, the educational establishment knew this at the start and didn't care:
“Where laptops and Internet use make a difference are in innovation, creativity, autonomy and independent research,” he [Mark Warschauer, an education professor at the University of California at Irvine] said. “If the goal is to get kids up to basic standard levels, then maybe laptops are not the tool. But if the goal is to create the George Lucas and Steve Jobs of the future, then laptops are extremely useful.”
That's a lot like arguing that the best way to alleviate poverty is by expanding sales of lottery tickets. Sure, if you want to encourage the poor to save money in order to build wealth, it's a lousy idea. But if the goal is to create the Bill Gates and Warren Buffett of the future, then $10 million lotto jackpots are extremely useful.

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