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Common Core and Technology: Can Schools Afford the New Standards?

By Marcus A. Hennessy, CEA (ret.)

Teachers and administrators in a lot of K-12 schools are wondering where they’re going to come up with the money to implement the technology components of the new Common Core State Standards.

Schools’ budget dilemmas were just one of the notable findings in a report released in the summer of 2012 by ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development), called “Fulfilling the Promise of the Common Core State Standards.”

Student on tablet and student writing

“The budget challenges that states, districts and schools are facing have been extraordinary as revenues have plummeted and the country continues to economically struggle from the worst recession since the Great Depression,” the report asserts. “With the priority for funds being [used] to maintain basic instructional services and student support, other areas indispensable to helping meet the higher expectations of the Common Core State Standards have been cut. These range from budgets for professional development to aligned instructional materials to technology enhancements.”

Not Everyone Can Get the Tech They Want

That stark assessment is bolstered by the results of a much-touted PBS national survey of 500 pre-K-12 teachers across the United States in late 2011. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of them cited budget concerns as the biggest obstacle to applying technology to the classroom. This percentage grows to 70 percent for teachers in low-income communities.

Conducted by VeraQuest Research, the PBS-sponsored survey reported that 91 percent of teachers had access to computers in class but only one in five said they had an adequate level of technology.

Other results of the survey showed that:

  • 59 percent of teachers have access to an interactive whiteboard.
  • 93 percent believe that interactive whiteboards enrich classroom education.
  • 81 percent of teachers feel the same way about tablets.
  • Teachers in affluent districts are twice as likely to have access to tablets as teachers in middle- and lower-income districts.

Dark Clouds on the Budget Horizon

This disparity in tech resources is disconcerting in light of the outlook for primary and secondary education costs over the next decade. Based on rigorous statistical modeling, the National Center for Education Statistics predicts that school budgets will need to increase by at least 20 percent to accommodate a 6 percent increase in total student enrollment – or nearly 60 million K-12 students – by 2019.

Is Tech Really Worth the Cost?

Introducing technology into the classroom without adequate metrics to prove its effectiveness poses a quandary for educators, as Matt Richtel of the New York Times illustrated in an extensive article on the newspaper’s website. While profiling a school district in Chandler, Ariz., that has made substantial investments in laptops, interactive whiteboards and cutting-edge software, Richtel identifies the crux of the problem: “In a nutshell, schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.”

“This conundrum calls into question one of the most significant contemporary educational movements,” he adds. “Advocates for giving schools a major technological upgrade — which include powerful educators, Silicon Valley titans and White House appointees — say digital devices let students learn at their own pace, teach skills needed in a modern economy and hold the attention of a generation weaned on gadgets.”

However, he writes, “Critics counter that, absent clear proof, schools are being motivated by a blind faith in technology and an overemphasis on digital skills — like using PowerPoint and multimedia tools — at the expense of math, reading and writing fundamentals.”

The Standards’ Blueprint

Launched in 2009, the Common Core State Standards Initiative has been developed to set college- and career-readiness benchmarks to identify what students should know and what they’re capable of doing when they graduate from high school. Now adopted by a majority of states, the standards are aiming for standardized assessments of all U.S. students by 2014-15.

The standards include specific language on implementing technology in classrooms:

  • “With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of one page in a single sitting.”
  • “Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using different mediums (e.g., print or digital text, video, multimedia) to present a particular topic or idea.”
  • “Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems, evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source and noting any discrepancies among the data.”
  • “Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning and evidence, and to add interest.

Finding Hope in Digital Promise

As school districts across the country begin implementing the CCSS, the Obama Administration is helping to spur technology deployment through its endorsement of Digital Promise, a nonprofit corporation authorized by Congress “to support a comprehensive research and development program to harness the increasing capacity of advanced information and digital technologies to improve all levels of learning and education, formal and informal,” as described in its bipartisan charter.

The Digital Promise national research center will partner with tech firms, developers and educators to identify new trends in learning and determine how best to integrate these trends into technology platforms.

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