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How technology will close the achievement gap

Amara’s Law: We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

Minnesota has among  the nation's largest achievement gaps. Our white kids tend to test very well and our other than white children to test poorly. And despite our best efforts, that doesn't seem to have changed much over the past 15 years.

Our district, like many, has turned to technology to raise the reading and math skills of our underperforming students. Or their test scores anyway. This has primarily been by having students complete tutorials and practice drills using commercial programs. One is described as a "blended learning intervention solution." 

Given the nagging gap in performance after continued use of this product, I wonder if we are using technology in the most effective way?

In my observations of classrooms using these canned "interventions", the kids seem to be just going through the motions. There is no excitement. There is no interaction. There is no "I can't wait to get started" or "Darn, the class is over already." In fact one common complaint from teachers is that kids often have a second tab open in their browsers to a site that actually involves them and they are often looking at it instead of the intervention program. (Much like I hid a comic book behind my textbook when I was in school.)

We have long had a term for these activities: drill and kill. Does digitizing them make the more effective? More engaging? Studies conducted by the publishers of such programs say yes; independent studies say no. Imagine that.

These program seem the antithesis of what most technology proponents envision good student use looks like in schools. The 4 C's (Creativity, Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking) have become shorthand for activities that give kids choices, give learning relevance, and give meaningful uses to technology. These activities empower kids asking for them to produce, not simply to follow directions and absorb.

And kids get very excited about this kind of learning - especially those, it seems, for whom traditional teach methods don't really work. Maybe the same kids who are not doing well on our tests.

So here is my bold prediction: until we start understanding that using technology in activities that teach the 4 Cs, that are relevant, that are culturally proficient, we will not close the achievement gap. 

All kids deserve an education that empowers them.

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