For crying out loud!

A longstanding critique of instructional technology is our penchant for adopting whizbang tools only to reinforce traditional pedagogy rather than transform it. Technology interventions in the classroom often bear the mark of “old wine in new bottles.”

Here is the best evidence to date: a March 16 New York Times feature on the increasing use of amplification systems in U.S. classrooms.

So all that handwringing over how to transform instruction so no child is left behind was for nothing? The children simply weren’t hearing us?

Here is one particularly troubling passage from the article:

The West Orange district [in New Jersey] decided to require amplification after seeing the first-grade reading scores at one school, St. Cloud Elementary, skyrocket to 89 percent at or above grade level at the end of the 2003-4 academic year, from 59 percent before teachers started speaking into microphones.

“That got everybody’s attention, as you can imagine,” said Karen Tarnoff, the district’s testing coordinator. “There was nothing else over the course of the year that was different than in any other year. The teachers and the curriculum remained the same, and nothing new was added other than the amplification system.”

But, of course! Test scores are what drove the reform! (The reform, by the way, comes with a price tag of $1,000 to $1,500 per classroom.) What is even scarier is a testing coordinator who brags that nothing changed in her district for an entire year in terms of evolving instructional practices or curricular approach.

Thankfully, other perspectives are represented in the story. David Lubman, a fellow of the Acoustical Society of America, calls it for what it is: a “triumph of marketing over science.”

What do you think?

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Think on this:

"What if we just ignored the status of students in other countries? That wouldn’t be especially neighborly, but at least we wouldn’t be viewing the gains of children in other lands as a troubling development."

Alfie Kohn


"When I hear people say it's our job to create the 21st century workforce, it scares the hell out of me. Our job is to create 21st-century citizens. We need workers, yes, but we also need scholars, activists, parents -- compassionate, engaged people."

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