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Throwing money at technology won’t improve education

Auburn Citizens for Responsible Education

By Carlo J. Gammaitoni M.D.

Auburn Citizens for Responsible Education was formed because of frustration regarding our children’s education and lack of demonstrable achievement, particularly at the middle school and high school levels.

While clearly realizing that technology must play a role in our children’s education, we believe the iPad program represents a symptom of a much larger problem. This problem is the flawed thought process that throwing more money at a problem will actually solve the problem.

Allocating more money, either nationally or locally, is not the education panacea that many citizens believe it to be. The data from the past three decades with regard to education clearly shows otherwise.

Between 1995 and 2011, with the most recent proposed school budget, Auburn School Department spending increased from $21.7 million to $34.3 million—a 58.5 percent increase. During this same time, inflation rates have been at an historical low. With all of this increased spending, have we seen improvements in our educational system?

Graduation rates in this state have consistently shown that approximately 67 percent of children earn a high school diploma in four years. The SAT determines what students have learned at school and how well they can apply that knowledge. The SAT also tests crucial critical thinking skills, which are necessary for college and beyond.

According to maine.gov, the “SAT is one of the best predictors of college success. In fact, when combined with high school grades, the SAT is the best predictor of college success, with a high correlation between SAT scores and first-year college GPA. Furthermore, some states including Maine use the SAT as the state’s educational assessment.” (http://www.maine.gov/education/mhsa/factsheet.pdf)

Each of these purposes has been confirmed as a valid use of the test. Between 1995 and 2009, the most recent data available for SAT scores, Maine did not rate well. For example, in 1995 Maine’s average verbal SAT score was 427 out of a possible 800, while the average math SAT score was 469 out of a possible 800. (https://www.student.gsu.edu/~oteel/SAT%20Regression%20Report.htm)

In 2009 Maine’s average verbal SAT score was 468, and the average math score was 467. (http://blog.bestandworststates.com/2009/08/25/state-sat-scores-2009.aspx) In 2009 Maine’s average writing SAT score was 455. All together in 2009, Maine ranked 50th among state SAT scores.

Taking a closer look at Auburn’s statistics, the SAT and other standardized tests indicate poor proficiency levels in critical reading, mathematics, science and writing. Specifically, 55 percent of students are not proficient at grade level in critical reading skills; 55 percent of students are not proficient at grade level in mathematics; 58 percent of students are not proficient at grade level in science; and 62 percent of students are not proficient at grade level in writing skills. (http://www.maine.gov/education/mhsa/10schoolreports/school/1007/10071142/SchReHS10071142.pdf)

Does it follow that increased educational spending leads to better scores? In 2005-06, Maine ranked fifth in per pupil expenditures at $12,985. (http://blog.bestandworststates.com/2009/01/29/state-rankings-on-education-spending.aspx) Are these the results we should expect, and are we happy with them?

According to Maine Department of Education statistics, our results are no better at the middle school level. Seventh and eighth graders in Auburn consistently show poor proficiencies in math, reading and writing scores. For the years 2009 and 2010, 42 percent and 40 percent of seventh-grade students, respectively, were not proficient at grade level in mathematics. Within this same group, reading statistics indicate that 31 percent and 34 percent, respectively, are not proficient at grade level.

For the years 2009 and 2010, eighth-grade statistics reveal that 43 percent and 41 percent, respectively, of students are not proficient at grade level in mathematics; 40 percent and 43 percent, respectively, are not proficient at grade level in reading; and 53 percent of eighth-grade students are not proficient at grade level in writing.

In the last 10 years Maine had started a laptop program at the middle school level. What was its intended purpose? Has that program been successful? Can we not assume that the introduction of a broad sweeping technological program, such as the laptop program, should result in better educational performance of our students?

If we cannot expect this technological expenditure to improve our children’s educational performance, is it worth it? What benefit to our students is exposure to technology if they cannot read, write or be proficient in math and science at grade level?

What good is exposure to technology if one out of four Auburn students does not finish high school, and only 57 percent of those going on to college actually graduate? (http://blog.gocollege.com/2010/05/23/the-ten-highest-graduation-rates-among-state-universities/)

How can we expect an iPad program that is ill defined and of unproven benefit to yield any better results?

According to Rachel Brown-Chidsey, Ph.D., NCSP, who is the Associate Professor and Program Coordinator of the Educational and School Psychology Programs at the University of Southern Maine: “The research on computers in schools has consistently shown that they cannot replace teachers and that they are best for practicing known skills but less helpful when it comes to students learning new skills.”

Based upon the available literature regarding technology in education the plan, we in Auburn Citizens for Responsible Education believe that having such young children use iPads for instructional purposes is perplexing and misguided. No technological tool will ever replace direct and systematic instruction.

Does it make sense that our proposed school budget allocated $155,796 for technology-related hardware or $121,210 for two technology teachers? Although these allocations have been eliminated in the reworking of the budget, this represents the failed thought process that spending more money—without critical assessment of program effectiveness—is the cure for our city’s educational ills.

If our school committee and superintendent have a goal to improve literacy and math proficiency by 37 percent and 40 percent, respectively, as stated in their Advantage 2014 initiative, there are other ways to achieve these results. It is clear that continuing to increase educational spending and expecting better results is flawed thinking.

At the end of the day, effective teachers who are well trained in mathematics, science, reading and writing, and who are highly skilled in providing direct, systematic and ongoing instruction, are what will make the difference—not the screen of a laptop or an iPad.

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5 Responses to “Throwing money at technology won’t improve education”

  • Jared:

    At face value, I somewhat agree with the title of this article, “Throwing Money at Technology Won’t Improve Education,” but the person who wrote the article uses remarkably poor interpretation of data to make a case that Maine is doing a poor job of educating students. He uses the achievement of Maine students on the S.A.T. to support his position, which is totally unfair. It is very alarming at first glance to see that Maine ranked 50th in student achievement on the S.A.T., until you look a little more closely at the data (which I did this evening). Guess which state was the ONLY one with 100% participation? Yes, that would be Maine. South Dakota scored #1 on the S.A.T. That is not such an impressive accomplishment when you look at the data and see that only 4% of students in South Dakota took the test.
    Basically, the author of the article is comparing the scores of college bound students who take the test in other states with the results of students in Maine, where every student takes the test as a senior in high school. In fact, every state in the top 17 has fewer than 10% of their kids taking the test. The bottom 6 states all had over 80% of their students take the test.
    The author seems to have missed this paragraph from the College Board when he looked at each state’s report, “Not all students in a high school, school district, or state take the SAT. Since the population of test-takers is self-selected, using aggregate SAT scores to compare or evaluate teachers, schools, districts, states, or other educational units is not valid, and the College Board strongly discourages such uses.” The College Board explicitly cautions against ranking states by scores because score vary greatly by how many students take the exam. The more who take it, the lower the state’s score is likely to be. Maine uses the scores of students on the S.A.T. to measure progress of schools year to year, not to compare schools.
    The author may be a wonderful man and doctor, but the he is is a total hack when it comes to commenting on education. He cites a blog as the basis of his S.A.T. research, rather than the College Board. He presents data about the S.A.T. that he does not seem to understand or be able to place in a meaningful context. He also seems oblivious to the trend in colleges towards NOT accepting S.A.T. scores because universities increasingly dismiss them as a poor measure of achievement. It was a very amateurish article.

  • Dave:

    Good points Jared. His numbers are wrong as well.

    This article is very misleading and inaccurate. (as well as selection of poorl sources for data)

    For example, if you calculate spending in 1995 compared to 2011 with Consumer Price Index (CPI) adustments, $21.7 million spent in 1995 is equivalent to $32.07 spending in 2011. CPI doesn’t include fuel prices (85 cents a gallon in ’95 compared to $3.40 in ’11) or food prices. Conclusion – the premise that we’re spending more money on education is FALSE. 2nd – Maine’s SAT scores are lower than national averages because 92% of Maine Students take the test, versus 3% of the ‘top’ states.

    Unfortunately, the ‘Auburn Citizens for Responsible Education’ is merely a front for those unwilling to properly fund education. They expect miracles to occur by continuing to operate the education system as it has since its beginnings.

  • Dave:

    One another thing. Is this a news story, an op-ed, or a letter to the editor. The Twin City Times fails to make any distinction.

    • The story is clearly marked as coming from Auburn Citizens for Responsible Education, which is a local group of concerned parents (and educators). Their point of view is immediately obvious. Does it really matter if their piece is labeled as a “news story, an Op-Ed, or a Letter to the Editor?”
      In the old days, newspapers had strict rules about whether a piece was a news story, an Op-Ed, or a Letter to the Editor. News stories were supposed to be balanced and objective, whereas Letters and Op/Eds were strictly opinion pieces.
      But these days, look at any daily paper. The front-page stories are full of bias, slant and personal opinion. The rules of old are discarded at will, depending on the paper’s point of view. Just because it is supposed to be a balanced “news story” doesn’t mean it isn’t full of the reporter’s bias.
      TCT is a small community paper that welcomes positions and opinions from everybody. TCT is usually the only outlet for these opinions, which dailies often refuse to print. Labeled or not, it is very easy to determine whether a piece is opinionated. And TCT often prints pieces from writers or groups that we personally disagree with. Those pieces are often published on Page 1 too. We don’t censor opinions that differ from ours. In fact, we encourage them.
      But if you want TCT’s opinion, don’t base it on someone else’s writing. Just look at our editorials, which are clearly marked and signed by the editor.
      Whether it is a “news story, an Op-Ed, or a Letter to the Editor,” TCT will continue to offer a platform for anyone in the community to express their opinions. Anyone is welcome to disagree with those opinions and submit their own “news story, Op-Ed or Letter to the Editor.”

  • Jared:

    Peter,
    I understand and applaud your mission of giving a voice to different opinions, but this article belongs in an entirely different category. It was absolutely staggering in how poorly data was interpreted and presented, not to mention that the author cited BLOGS, rather than legitimate sources. It really compromises the integrity of the TCT when a piece like this runs on the first page, with nothing to qualify it as fiction. I am sure many people read that story and still believe the author’s misleading data regarding Maine’s S.A.T. performance. It is really irresponsible for a paper to allow that. I don’t care what initials the author prints after his name, he is a hack. I am an elementary classroom teacher who is opposed to the Ipad initiative, by the way.

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