Home > Uncategorized > Technology’s Promise, OBE, CBE Thwarted by the Factory Model Which is Reinforced by Standardized Testing

Technology’s Promise, OBE, CBE Thwarted by the Factory Model Which is Reinforced by Standardized Testing

November 8, 2017

Blogger Tom Ultican, described by Diane Ravitch as a California physics and math teacher who formerly worked in technology, wrote a post in early October that excoriates the role of technology in public education and decries the failed attempts to introduce various forms of mastery learning into public schools. In doing so, Mr. Ultican, like many technology critics, overlooks the fact that technology’s advantages are undercut by our current factory school model and the standardized tests that reinforce it. Moreover, some of Mr. Ultican’s assertions regarding the outflowing of new money for technology do not appear to be substantiated.

Mr. Ultican opens his post lamenting ESSA’s inclusion of billions of dollars for “blended learning”, which is defined in the law as:

…a formal education program that leverages both technology-based and face-to-face instructional approaches—(A) that include an element of online or digital learning, combined with supervised learning time, and student- led learning, in which the elements are connected to provide an integrated learning experience; and (B) in which students are provided some control over time, path, or pace.”

He then delineates the funding provided for ESSA and, absent any evidence, purports that “…it is clear that Title-I authorizes spending tens of billions of tax payer dollars on education technology.” What is clear to me is that Title I allows districts to use these funds for technology, but since this money is already being spent for existing Title One programs and is only a .6% increase over the baseline it is highly unlikely that funds currently being spent for Title One personnel will be redirected to technology. Similarly his assertion that Title IV is 100% for technology is inaccurate. As the Center for Digital Education notes in an April blog post:

ESSA is authorized to spend up to $1.6 billion on Title IV, which includes provisions of use for access to well-rounded education, school counseling, school health and safety, and education technology. By placing those important areas under the same umbrella for funding, the amounts left to use on education transformation through the use of technology are lower than the funds initially received from Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT), which at it’s peak was allocated $700 million. Based off of initial Congressional proposals, the $1.6 billion authorized seems highly unlikely to come to fruition.

So… where Mr. Ultican sees a treasure trove for technology, the technology industry itself sees a diminishment of funding… and as the closing sentence in this paragraph indicates, the authorization of funding is different from the allocation of funding

Mr. Ultican’s distaste for technology appears to be rooted in his distaste for what he calls “behaviorist education”, which includes some concepts that I fully support:

The behaviorist ideology of B.F. Skinner informs “competency based education.” CBE is the computer based approach that replaces the failed 1990’s behaviorist learning method called Outcome Based Education. Outcome Based Education is a renamed attempt to promote the 1970’s “mastery education” theory. Mastery education’s failure was so complete that it had to be renamed. It was quickly derided by educators as “seats and sheets.” These schemes all posit that drilling small skills and mastering them is the best way to teach. It has not worked yet.

Today’s proponents of behaviorist education hope that technology including artificial intelligence backed by micro-credentials and badges will finally make behaviorism a winner. It will not because little humans are not linear learners. Non-alignment with human nature is a fundamental flaw in this approach. In addition, behaviorism is not known as a path to creativity or original thinking. Those paths are created between teachers and students through human contact; paths undermined by “digital education.”

Earlier in his post, Mr. Ultican writes about the uselessness of standardized testing, yet he bases his conclusion on the failure of OBE on test results. Standardized tests, unlike the “micro-credentials and badges” he derides, assume that all children learn at the same rate. He also fils to see that technology could be used to enable students to progress at their own rate without the “sheets” that made mastery learning cumbersome in the 70s and led to the failure in South Africa where teachers were compelled to develop their own self-paced learning materials for children.

My bottom line is this: technology will not make any difference in public education as long as public education is organized based on the premise that all children learn at the same rate and that, consequently, they should be grouped by age cohorts to facilitate learning. Standardized testing reinforces this notion and the “compensatory” funding that is the ultimate root of ESSA is designed to improve standardized test scores.

And here’s what surprises me the most: the technology industry seeking ever increasing amounts of money has not caught onto this and explicitly advocated a change to the factory model.

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  1. November 10, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    Mr. Gersen I appreciate your perspective and am kind of intimidated by your credentials. I believe you are correct when you say I am not completely accurate about Title IV spending, however the way that Title IV is written could be interpreted the way I did.

    As for the Title I spending, I think you are incorrect in assuming local spending is not being shifted to technology. There is no way for me to know the amount but anecdotal evidence from the school I worked in says most of the Title I spending is going to technology and test prep on computers. For example, my high school just bought more than 10 $15,000 rolling touch screen smart boards and the district is purchasing Lenovo laptops for all students which I believe is at least in part financed with Title I money. Honestly, I do not have deep understanding of the rules around those budgets, but I think their has been a clear shift in Title I money to technology spending.

    Your point about sorting students by age is well taken, however, I wonder if there are not some social advantages for students to grow along with their age alike peers. I don’t really have a dog in this fight, but I do not think the usefulness of technology is predicated on the need for non-age-aligned class cohorts. Additionally, in my high school math and physics classes, I did not have age-alike students.

    I believe in technology and wished that in my physics lab, I could have had high speed video cameras, laptops with high speed data acquisition capabilities and sensitive electronic probes. However, I did not want a DreamBox software package for the remedial math classes I taught. I also do not think it is a good idea to purchase digital devices for every student. It is a waste of money and there is data showing that it might even undermine learning.

    Finally, I think behaviorist approaches like mastery education do not align with human development and should be avoided. I also believe that it is now clear that standardized testing is useless for understanding teaching and learning quality.

    Most of all these technology decisions are being driven by the technology industry and not education professionals like yourself.

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