The Lack of Evidence-Based Practice: The Case of Classroom Technology (Part 1)

When it comes to policymakers calling for data-based decisions and evidence-based practice, the purchase and use of tablets, laptops, interactive whiteboards and academic software miss that call miserably. The fact is that no substantial basis in research findings or existing data on the academic effectiveness of classroom technology warrant the boom-town spread of classroom devices. If so, how come so much money is being spent?

In a New York Times‘ op-ed piece Susan Pinker lays out a once-over-lightly sad story of how technology for low-income children here and abroad has failed. The op-ed format, however, falls short in presenting the full array of evidence of either minimal effect,  no-effect, or even negative effect of technology upon student academic achievement.

Since 2010, laptops, tablets, interactive whiteboards, smart phones, and a cornucopia of software have become ubiquitous. Yet has academic achievement improved as a consequence? Has teaching and learning changed? Has use of devices in schools led to better jobs? These are the basic questions that school boards, policymakers, and administrators ask.

The answers to these questions are “no,” “no,” and “probably not.”

Test scores, the current gold standard policymakers use to determine academic achievement, show little evidence that using new hardware and software have improved students’ performance on tests.[i]

The evidence of transforming traditional teaching practices is equally underwhelming. Nearly all teachers now use these devices. Lessons using interactive whiteboards or carts filled with laptops or tablets are common across elementary and secondary schools. How teachers use laptops or tablets, however, vary from unimaginative to creative, from daily to occasional to non-use.[ii]

These powerful computers have yet to alter traditional ways of teaching that have marked classrooms for years. Laptops, desktops, tablets, and interactive whiteboards continue to support the dominant teacher-centered approach to instruction rather than promoting the hoped-for student-centered approach. Teachers have expanded their teaching repertoire to incorporate new software and hardware to do what they have been doing all along. No surprise there since for decades, teachers have mixed old and new practices in their lessons. New technologies have found a niche in most classrooms but their impact is much smaller than what was initially promised. In effect, new hardware and software have strengthened, not altered, prevailing teaching approaches.[iii]

Finally, the question of computer use in schools prepares students for jobs. Whether using soon-to-be-obsolete hardware and software helps students gain  jobs in a knowledge-based labor market is “probably not.” Most applicants for private sector entry-level jobs–except for software engineers and programmers–learn new hardware and software in a matter of days, not months or years. Few studies of high school graduates getting jobs requiring computer skills even exist.[iv]

Given these answers, why do district policymakers, administrators, and business leaders beat the drum for more and better devices and software in schools? Part 2 answers that question.


[i] Jason Ravitz, et al., “Cautionary Tales about Correlations between Student Computer Use and Academic Achievement, “ April 2002, paper presented at annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. New Orleans; Larry Cuban, Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice: Change without Reform in American Education (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2013), pp. 43-45.


[ii] Mark Windschitl and Kurt Sahl, “Tracing Teachers’ Use of Technology in a Laptop Computer School,” American Educational Research Journal, 2002, vol. 39(1), pp. 165-205; Larry Cuban, Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001); Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice: Change without Reform in American Education (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2013).


[iii] Larry Cuban, Hugging the Middle: How Teachers Teach in an Era of Testing and Accountability (New York: Teachers College Press, 2009); Larry Cuban, Inside the Black Box, pp. 155-171.

[iv] Anyone familiar with the level of hardware and software used in schools over the past thirty years has seen extraordinary changes in software programs and hardware miniaturization. What software students in the 9th grade in 1985 were using was gone and forgotten five years later; ditto for 2010 and now. Preparing students for jobs in a labor market prizing information usage and rapid communication means constant changes in what software and hardware students will use in schools, a condition that districts find themselves a few steps behind every year. Thus built-in obsolesence of machines and software make it difficult to plan on current students being prepared for jobs. Current interest in teaching all students to learn to code recognizes the constant turnover in technological equipment and skills. See, for example, Nick Wingfield, “Fostering New Tech Talent in Schools,” New York Times, September 30, 2012.



Filed under school reform policies, technology use

42 responses to “The Lack of Evidence-Based Practice: The Case of Classroom Technology (Part 1)

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  2. Tests are a one snap shot, measure of one’s memory. This is why so many experts and parents oppose testing in schools. Tests are not accurate measures of achievement. As in good research, to get a good picture of achievement, one must triangulate using multiple measures. Some of these multiple measures might focus on a student’s competence, their ability to do, to create, etc. Technology is hands on, nothing more than a tool that extends learning. If you want to be honest, technology’s success or not should be measure by what students can do not by at test that measure only what they can memorize. So let’s stop comparing apples with oranges to say something doesn’t work.

    • Tests measure our ability to recall information, often quite complex information, in stressful and somewhat contextually appropriate situations.

      Testr often test real world skills too. How to write emails, assess newspaper articles, analyse historical contexts and situations, how to diagnose patients. How to debug code. How ti wire up a house.

      Tests can also meaningfully assess the domain knowledge of a student, something thats critical to their skill level in that arena. And, yes, they are memory tests. But memory is a significant part of learning, and skills development. It’s probably impossible to learn a new skill without memorisation. A violinists memory is key to playing, mecanics memory is key to diagnosis aand repir, a doctors key to analysis and prescription, a plumbers key to installing a centrtal heating system. An electricians memory of facts is key in not getting electrocuted.

      Tests have limitations. Bd tests can of course be damaging. But they do have significant uses too.

    • larrycuban

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Bob.

  3. thanks for the sharp and to the point post.

    I’m in broad agreement here, I guess. tech in ed has repeatedly failed to revolutionise teaching and learning. The points about technology use not significantly impacting on scores are well made, and the suggestion that technology use may not have improved the worklife of educators isinteresting. Pearson ran a 9000+ respondent survey last year in which educators reported, in the majority, feeling more work strees, not less, due to technology in their practices.

    i do wonder – and I don’t think research has been done here – if there is some down the line benefit for strudents. It’s possible that school use of tech for students is going to lower cognitive load in later learning and working using devices. The automaticity gained in schooltime use may make later device usage that bit easier, and, if schools are teaching students good critical literacy skills on their devices, that’s likely to be transferrable. There’s some evidence that schools are the main shaper of pedagogically effective digital literacy, and that without schools support, students are unlikely to leverage their pre-existing competece well- if they have it. But that’s far from a major win.

    I’m curious as to why evidence based decisions are not being made, There’s enough data out there to cast signifiacnt doubt on the edupreneur / technophile disruption narrative that informs so much of the debate surrounding edtech. Is it that policymakers lack the depth of inaformtion, that the fear of missing out is colouring deciion making, that the native enthusiasm of educatotrs, allied to the lack of evidence based rigour in many teacher traing programs means there is a lack of evidence based literacy in the profession?

    Thanks for the post, links,and insights.

    • larrycuban

      Thank you for commenting.

    • jturner56

      Wilt / Larry
      Appreciate the perspectives.
      Technology IS changing our recall abilities. See Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips (
      We’re in a new world. Perhaps that’s a problem for School as an institution, with too much of a rear-view mirror approach. Fortunately many teachers I work with have a wider field of vision.
      Testing for recall needs evolution. Testing is important for self-awareness and information to help support. As a dominant, filtering system not so much. There are insights going back decades to show that traditional school testing v the potential of digital to support learning are not compatible in most instances. Yet the challenges of new digital opportunities continue to grow.
      There are two questions for any education change we should be continually asking
      (1) is the Balance right? (there are competing agendas at play)
      (2) is the Value of what we are trying to achieve clear and honest?
      I have found technology part of the way forward for many reasons over many years, but always as part of a constructive discussion. I continually have to address narrowness of thinking on both sides.
      BTW – the word “revolutionize” is on my do-not-like list for education, as revolution denotes a power shift (to who).

      • Thanks for the link, jt.
        The Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves.
        Seems to me that’s a game changer for schooling–although it has changed the game little, if at all, as yet.

      • larrycuban

        Thanks for commenting.

      • Hi JTurner, and thanks for the link.

        I’d respond with two arguments. Transactional memory is not new. It’s as old as civilisation. And skills creation still depends on the ability to recall information, in ways tthat being able to look it up does not replicate.

        In short, we have always used people, objects and technology to memorise, and it has had no huge effect on how we learn since we started doing it. Zilch. Nada. It has had no effect on human cognitive architecture in the last several millenia. And secondly, skills acquisition has always required memorisation. And it still does. Sure you can look up how to drive while you are actually on the motorway for the first time, and you’ll find huge resources in the transactional memory of the internet, but the clever money would be on doing your learning in advance so you have all the movements and facts pretty automatic before you take to the motorway in rush hour. The internet can tell you where the acceleratorm, brake and clutch are, and what gear ratios you should use, but you won;t have learned it until it becoes part of your long term memory. Who are you going to trust to do your open heart surgery. Someone who says they will look the diagrams up on the net as they are about to crack open your chest (ipads are handy like that) or someone who has spent ten years learning their trade so that the knolwedge is automatic, remembered, and effortlessly deployed?

        here’s the long version….apologies…

        Re the novelty of transactional memory. We have always done this. The same fears were evoked about writing, the printing press and the telegraph. We have always used transactional memory in civilisation. Socrates argued against teaching students the technology of writing – he argued for preserving student illiteracy – as he felt writing would “create forgetfulness in learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories”. We have always used transactional memory, and it has always had the same cognitive effect on us – we focus on different things rather than losing capacity, and we still need to learn knolwedge to develop skills. Writing, recording, printing, video, cataloguing, filing. The invention of the library and the card catalogue did not obviate the need to know things, and nor did it transform our memory. I still require my doctor to be accredited by an istitution that needs them to have studied for years, even though they can look up my sympotoms on the internet.

        The effects Sparrow et al narrate are effects that have been characteristic of our use of technology for millenia. We have always, when we feel information has been safely archived, chosen to forget it, and to rember where to find it instead. This is not new. We have always used other people, and other things as memory repositories. Transactional memory does not alter outr cognitive abilities, make us less, or more clever.

        Secondly, does being able to look it up really allow us to change how we teach and learn? Cognitive psychologists will generall;y tell you that learning is, in many respects, a change in your long term memory. And expertise probably means your long term memory contains thousands of facts, ideas and experiences related to the field you are thinking about. Storing these facts in your long term memory means your understanding of the area you have learned about is automatic, instantly available, and changes hugely how you understand the things, ideas and experiences you have to engage with while engaging with that field. Your remembered knolwedge determines your ability to ana;lsyse well and efficiently in that field, determines how quickly and efficiently you acquire and remember new information in that area, and is the major determiner of how good your perfomance is.

        Transactional memory does not replace this.

        Let’s take two propositions as an example, one where we have a lot of knolwedge, and one where we have little.

        About my last car my mechanic said something like “The hydralics are shot due to corrosion so your suspension, powersteering and brake lines all need work, and the undercarriage has large amounts of oxidation, and the welds have surface cracks. It won’t pass government testing, so you’ll need to do a huge amount of remedial work to get it through”

        The fact that I have enough factual knolwedge to work out what the mechanic was saying meant that I was able to make a near instantaneous decision to trade in the car and buy another. If I didn;t understand the ideas of corrosion, oxidation powersteering, a legally requied government car mechanical safety test and brake lines, and had to look them up, it would have taken much longer to have reached an independent decision.

        I have little understanding of physics. I looked up Hawking Radiation on Wikipedia, as I am interested in Black Holes.

        “An outgoing Hawking radiated photon, if the mode is traced back in time, has a frequency which diverges from that which it has at great distance, as it gets closer to the horizon, which requires the wavelength of the photon to “scrunch up” infinitely at the horizon of the black hole. In a maximally extended external Schwarzschild solution, that photon’s frequency only stays regular if the mode is extended back into the past region where no observer can go. That region doesn’t seem to be observable and is physically suspect, so Hawking used a black hole solution without a past region which forms at a finite time in the past. In that case, the source of all the outgoing photons can be identified–it is a microscopic point right at the moment that the black hole first formed.”

        The amount of factual knolwedge required for me to decode this is immense. It is, frankly, largely gibberish to me, although I understand almost all of the terms used. It would be possible for me to google this, and, gradually, over an immense amount of time, reach some form of understanding. Or I could have someone, an expert in the field, decide the key factual information I needed to understand, and explain it to me in laymeans terms so I could achieve a good understanding. The latter option, provided the instructore is good, is the shorter, more efficient option. It;s also the one likely to produce better results.

      • larrycuban

        Thanks for commenting.

      • Wilt, I wouldn’t argue too much with either your short or long account, but both miss the point. The link uses the term, “transactive memory” and uses it after using the term, “external memory.” Sure, humans have always relied on the memory of other humans communicated orally or written, preferably those with the greatest expertise on a matter. What is new in the Internet is that all of this expertise is available 24/7 with a few clicks on a keyboard or touches on a screen. The thing is, the expertise is mixed in with a more incredible amount of junk information–irrelevant, faulty, or worse.

        So the four skills of searching, filtering, (re)organizing, and communicating are basic to tapping this new memory. And these “new” skills impact how best to teach and tap the “old” 3Rs, which are still as relevant today as ever.

      • larrycuban

        Thanks for commenting further, Dick.

      • larrycuban

        I am curious why you did not mention the fundamental question that few reformers ask and need to answer: which of the many purposes for tax-supported public schooling, does this proposed change target?

      • Hi Dick,

        apologies for the…well…huge reply. Am writing a piece about the topic, and I guess I just began thinking about that out loud…

        The availability of expertise is, frankly, amazing online. But the cognitive limits we have in taking advantage of that expertise are the exact same as they always were. And critical literacies as standalone skills are of limited help in accessing online expertise.

        Some critical literacy skills are transferrable – for example, assessinf some aspects of an online authority’s expertise. Is the source a peer reviewed journal, is there an obvious bias, is there evidence, and is it transparent.

        But a huge amount of critical literacy is not transparent, and relies on the readers factual knolwedge of the subject. Teaching critical literacy as a standalone skill is fairly limited when it comes to developing real expertise in an area or domain.

        All the critical literacy training in the worlkd isn;t going to fill in gaps where a student is missing critical domain knolwedge. For example, here’s a section from a metastudy on whether clinician patient relaptionships impact on health outcomes.

        “Additional sensitivity analyses explored the effects of various
        possible sources of artifact or bias on the results. First, we assessed
        the presence of publication bias visually by funnel plot [23] and
        formally by its direct statistical analogue, Begg’s adjusted-rank
        correlation test [24]. We also used Rosenthal’s fail-safe N method
        [25] to determine the number of unpublished or un-retrieved null
        studies that would need to exist for the combined effect size to no
        longer be statistically significant.”

        This is expertise that’s freely available online, and that showed up on the first page of results for the google search I did. Itls also completely useless to a student who hasn;t the specific factuial knowledge to decode it.

        The new skills, as you have them, are, in fact a minor subset of the old ones. Expertise is still composed, primarily of domain specific knolwedge. And quality information about complex subjects needs domain specific knolwedge to be decoded.

        To facilitate learners becoming independent in an area of expertise, and autonomous, you must first give them the domain specific knolwedge that will allow them to decode and understand knolwedge approriately.

        Basic criticla literacy skills won;t enable a student to pick up an oline engineering manual and decode it. Engineering knolwedge will. Knowledge of statistics is what will give students autonomy in statistical analysis learning and allow them to detect the validity or invalidity of statical arguments and assertions. The four new skills (and they are not new, they are as old as learning) will not allow a student with no knolwedge of physics to understand the wikipedia entry on Hawking radiation – a factual knolwedge of physics will.

        Complex information requires knolwedge to decode. This is a human cognitive truth that google has not altered.

        The four skills are not the key to knowledge. Knowledge is the key to knowledge.

      • larrycuban

        Thanks for keeping discussion going.

  4. willrich45

    Hi Larry,

    Your post leaves me with a number of questions:

    1. Is “academic effectiveness” the only measure that counts when assessing technology in schools?
    2. If “student academic achievement” remains flat, to what extent is that a direct failure of technology? Are you saying achievement would improve without it?
    3. You write “These are the basic questions that school boards, policymakers, and administrators ask” Are these the right questions to be asking? Instead of “Have these things happened?” might a better question be “Can these things happen?”
    4. Do you personally believe that test scores should be the “current gold standard?”
    5. Why are you surprised that in and of themselves technologies have not lead to an alteration of traditional ways of teaching? Does technology have the power by itself to do that? Is that a failure of technology or a problem with the culture and conditions that surround the implementation of technology in the classroom?
    6. Has technology failed to be transformative in all cases? If not, what is different in those schools and classrooms where technology actually has expanded teaching in transformative ways?
    7. Do you believe that technologies have had an impact on learning outside of school?
    8. How do we measure and create data around the “immeasurable” effects of technology and learning?


    • willrich45

      Hi Larry…is there a reason why you’re holding my comment in moderation?



    • larrycuban

      Will, thanks for the series of questions. There is no reason I have not commented beyond the number of questions you asked and my being out of town. Here are the questions you asked. My answers are in caps:

      1. Is “academic effectiveness” the only measure that counts when assessing technology in schools?NO, THERE ARE MANY MEASURES THAT CAN ASSESS THE USE OF TECHNOLOGY IN K-12 SCHOOLS
      2. If “student academic achievement” remains flat, to what extent is that a direct failure of technology? NO, THERE ARE MANY REASONS STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT REMAINS FLAT, RISES, OR FALLS. Are you saying achievement would improve without it? YES, I AM.
      3. You write “These are the basic questions that school boards, policymakers, and administrators ask” Are these the right questions to be asking? I BELIEVE THAT SUCH QUESTIONS AT A MINIMUM NEED TO BE ASKED BY THOSE WHO HAVE THE AUTHORITY TO MAKE DECISIONS ABOUT TEACHING AND LEARNING. Instead of “Have these things happened?” might a better question be “Can these things happen?” IF YOU EXPEND LIMITED FUNDS TO PURCHASE NEW TECHNOLOGIES THEN THE QUESTION IS ALREADY ANSWERED.
      4. Do you personally believe that test scores should be the “current gold standard?” NO, I DO NOT. BUT IT SHOULD BE ONE OF A NUMBER OF MEASURES THAT NEED TO BE CONSIDERED IN MAKING ANY CLAIM TO EFFECTIVENESS.
      5. Why are you surprised that in and of themselves technologies have not lead to an alteration of traditional ways of teaching? I AM NOT SURPRISED. BUT ADVOCATES OF BUYING HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE ARE BECAUSE THEY HAVE CLAIMED PAST AND PRESENT THAT “TRADITIONAL” INSTRUCTION CAN BE CHANGED BY INTRODUCING NEW DEVICES AND SOFTWARE THAT PERSONALIZE INSTRUCTION Does technology have the power by itself to do that? NO, IT DOES NOT. Is that a failure of technology or a problem with the culture and conditions that surround the implementation of technology in the classroom? BOTH
      6. Has technology failed to be transformative in all cases? NO
      7. Do you believe that technologies have had an impact on learning outside of school? YES, I DO BUT AVAILABLE METRICS FAIL TO CAPTURE THE DIFFERENT FORMS AND CONTENT OF THOSE LEARNINGS.
      8. How do we measure and create data around the “immeasurable” effects of technology and learning? I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE REFERRING TO IN THIS QUESTION. PLEASE BE MORE SPECIFIC.

      • willrich45

        Thanks for taking the time to reply. Much appreciated.

        My larger point, as I’m sure you can guess, is that I think it’s problematic to blame the technology for not bringing about a “transformation,” and that “transformation,” btw, goes far beyond increases in “student achievement” or “academic effectiveness.” Transformation is not about technology; it’s about moving agency over learning to students and giving them the freedom to do meaningful, beautiful work that lives in the world and changes the world on a regular basis with or without technology. Transformation is about an understanding of what conditions support powerful learning in each of our own lives and then creating more of those conditions in classrooms. In an era where we have access to so much information, so many teachers, and so many technologies, transformation is when we decide the mission in schools is, as John Dewey put it, “to teach everything that anyone is interested in,” not just the exceedingly narrow curriculum currently in place. Finally, transformation comes when we thoughtfully use technologies to amplify a vision that is built on powerful learning, not better test scores. (And yes, I believe the two are very, very different beasts.)

        To clarify my last question, I’ll go back to your next to last response. Much of the power of using technology in learning contexts cannot be measured by traditional “metrics,” and to suggest that because no such metrics exist we shouldn’t take those affordances into account is problematic. Access to technologies and the Web can and do increase curiosity, creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and more of the skills we all want our kids to have. (I see this on a daily basis with my own teenaged children.) Technologies can help us all become better at learning, for that matter. Yet these things are rarely figured into “academic effectiveness” and “student achievement.” Those things are measured by assessing that which is easy to measure: knowledge, content, information, etc. And the reality is that much of what we call “student achievement” is achieved in the short term. How many among us could go back and pass the current state math assessment, for instance? How many of us could pass the PARCC practice tests that are floating around online? I could have once. Is “learning” that will soon be forgotten really a measure of “achievement?”

        Schools and technology are not an easy mix. Schools and powerful learning (as opposed to powerful knowing) are not a great mix either, for powerful learning requires a freedom and other conditions that schools are loathe to supply. To say, however, that classroom technologies are a failure because they don’t move the needle on test scores ignores the larger potentials that are playing out in many kids’ and adults’ learning lives on a daily basis. In short, as the way we learn outside of school continues to look less and less like the way we learn inside of school, holding to nostalgic, time-worn visions of the purposes, outcomes, and assessments of schooling does no favors for our kids.

      • larrycuban

        Learning occurs in both venues, as you well know and state, Will. Measuring both have become political judgments and the metrics that are used seldom please the various stakeholders including students.

  5. At least a good part of the explanation for the situation you describe, Larry, seems to me to be due to fact that “technology” is viewed differently in EdLand than it is everywhere else. EdLanders equate technology to equipment, these days mostly to electronic hardware and “software.” “Everywhere else” it’s viewed as way to reliably accomplish some specified intent. The “evidence” of whether the “technology works” is very transparent, and doesn’t rely on a test that reliably measures nothing more than socio-economic status and on arcane statistics as indicators of “what works.” Were we to do so “everywhere else,” we’d find that “nothing works” anywhere, just as you’ve found in EdLand.

    When you look “anywhere”–home, hospital, repair shop, and so on–it’s loaded with electronics, but the electronics are device-specific and task-specific. The device does “what it says on the tin.” The devices and the “apps,” evolved systematically rather than coming off the top of the head of a few “leaders.”

    The impending disaster of the administration of the mandated achievement tests this Spring is a good example of how the scenario in schools unfolds.
    “Computerizing” the tests benefits the testing industry and the computer industry, but the innovation has no value-added benefit for students and teachers and it complicates rather than simplifies the test results. Who will be left holding the bag for the ill-conceived mess? The school leaders who “implemented” it, unless I miss my guess.

  6. The tests only prove one of two things; the technology is making no change, or the tests are not measuring the changes that are made. The last time I looked at one of the standardized tests it looked almost exactly the same as the ones I took when I was in high school. The one significant difference is we chipped our answers into the stone tablets.

    If the test were to measure things like finding statistics about 10000 data points, or presenting graphical information to 30 people at once, printing out a paper to a network printer then perhaps it might reflect the use of technology in schools.

    A lot of the classroom tech only offers the teacher another option for the kids. Without the proper teacher training in its use there will be no change by the teacher. Ipads, interactive boards, clickers, projectors, internet, laptops, computer labs are all absolutely useless unless used for the purpose they were designed for and used by someone trained in their use.

    The trouble is we are still teaching the same materiel the same way it was taught 50 or even 100 years ago. As long as we keep measuring academic achievement by how well a student can factor a trinomial by hand testing will not reflect the skills of the 21st century.

    As most of the school tech is used it is not justified. Most schools are just dumping money down a very fancy drain.

  7. NShrubs

    All this rang true for the cynical teacher here.
    Despite a lack of evidence of the effectiveness of standardized testing to improve education, we are stuck on this endless train of tests on steroids, each with more bells and whistles than a Microsoft product. Is it any wonder our policymakers and admins do the same when it comes to tech? My district has 1:1 iPads in HS. Prior to that, we had 1:1 laptops for 8 years. We have no data to show that 1:1 access to tech improves academic performance in our schools. Our test scores are average to high, reflecting the SES of our students. Yet we continue to fund tech and maintain a 1:1 model despite the cost.
    In our elementary schools, the bulk of our tech is now used for low-level activities like IXL Math practice, taking AR/SRI reading quizzes, keyboarding, and (this year) SBAC test prep. We have regressed from where we were pre-NCLB, when I could get teachers to do large-scale tech-rich projects utilizing programs like iMovie, Kidspiration, spreadsheets, or even Hyperstudio (way back when). Although I have no hard data to show evidence of academic achievement from pre-NCLB tech use to now, I do have plenty of anecdotal evidence, starting from my own feelings about my job (then and now) to those of former students who are now HS & college age and have reminisced (all good) about the impact some of these big tech-rich projects we used to do had on them. (Ironically, no kid has ever come back to reminisce about how wonderful Accelerated Reader tests..).

    Even our teacher tech has regressed. No longer do we write our own comments on report cards. Now we can only choose from a comment bank, so as to ensure we use only the right educational jargon. I’ve seen no evidence this has improved parent understanding of how their child is doing, yet the decision was made for us and we must do so.
    Technology is the epitome of the magic bullet. For the Ed Deformers, tech has the potential to replace the teacher. For those struggling to meet ends meet in low-income schools, technology is seen as the way to equalize the playing field, so to speak. When it fails, we don’t blame it. We blame the execution of the plan, we blame unforeseen difficulties, we even blame the kids and teachers. Then we go back and do it again, having learned nothing the first time or the second time. We pay for the potential that tech offers, not what we actually get.
    Then there are times when having evidence can be a bad thing.
    Our ELL program now basically consists of kids sitting on computers doing Imagine Learning rather than interacting with other kids and participating in class, because supposedly, the “research” showed that ELL kids who used Imagine Learning for at least 1/2 hour a day exited ELL programs sooner than kids who didn’t. So now we have aides who supervise Kinders – 6th graders as they click around on a computer program meant to teach them English, while their class is going through the daily routine of calendar, class meeting, maybe going over homework, starting a lesson. Common sense would probably dictate that kids learning English would get more out of the daily routine and interaction, but because we have “evidence” for the tech…

    • larrycuban

      Thank you for your comments about what happens at your school and in your classes insofar as tech use. It is a dispiriting but not cynical story, as I read it.

  8. SAMK

    A few quick thoughts – I would ask the same question about annual high-stakes standardized assessments given in almost every grade level, the use of those assessments to evaluate teachers and measure “growth” of student achievement, and to grade the overall effectiveness of schools – probably at the same expense as technology. Secondly, the type of technology purchased and the uses of that technology in most urban and low-performing schools should be considered in the discussion. Technology used in the same manner as old-time SRA reading (you know, the cards housed in a big box, leveled by colors) that allows teachers and schools to easily & quickly collect “data” and prescribe “interventions” will produce dismal results – even when measuring proxies of learning such as results on state assessments (often poorly designed) due, in part, to the absence of putting the learner at the center of the learning (and instead, putting the content) In addition, even the language used in the conversation about children’s learning in our high-stakes accountability culture shows a complete lack of respect and care for children and families. I am in no way saying all children were being served well before all this started – they were not. What I am saying, is that we still are not, but now we are lining the pockets of a few corporations with false assurances and questionable evidence of effectiveness. To me, the power of technology is the potential to help children and families escape this oppression – if educators who want to do that and know how to do that can escape it themselves!

  9. Pingback: Questioning the Data | The Principal of Change

  10. cerouse2015

    This blog post was incredibly interesting and eye opening. Computers and technology were a large aspect of my curriculum in elementary and middle school. I was surprised to hear that there was no substantial basis in findings or research about the effectiveness of technology in classrooms. I am curious as to whether or not you believe schools should continue to allocate funds to increasing technology in schools or if they should allocate them elsewhere.

    • larrycuban

      I support funding evidence-based programs but recognize that political and ideological reasons have much more influence in allocating monies to schools. That surely has been the case with new technologies. Evaluating the worth of spending scarce dollars on better trained teachers, more professional development, or buying new hardware should be publicly debated and assessed. So my answer is open assessment of the options for allocating limited funds.

  11. I will be interested in your answers. It seems a three part answer, in my opinion.
    1) There is varied use from rote tasks to higher level thinking creations.
    2) We are moving too fast for data and research to keep up with current shifts in practice.
    3) Current testing practices do not measure what we truly value (old world testing in a new world of learning).

    I will look forward to part two. Thanks for sharing these tough questions,

  12. Pingback: The Lack of Evidence-Based Practice–The Case of Classroom Technology (Part 2) | From experience to meaning...

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