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Years ago, associate professor Kentaro Toyama wrote an influential article and argued that the history of education in technology was “fraught with failures” and that technology could not address the individualized concerns that are necessary for good teaching.

And for a while, his criticisms seemed to hold a lot of water as EdTech (“education technology”) never managed to revolutionize classrooms, even after years of investment and many broken promises. However, its time may finally be here.

The Promise of EdTech

The idea that good teachers are an essential ingredient to good education isn’t up for debate, but Toyama’s harsh view of EdTech’s potential needs addressing. Just because EdTech is “fraught with failures” doesn’t mean we should abandon it outright.

In the past 100 years, most industries have evolved in spectacular ways, including in the ways we live our lives and in the ways we work. Yet somehow the classroom is still a century behind, still carving industrial workers in a post-industrial age. There is a sweet spot that can — and must — be reached.

Teaching Venn Diagram

The response here should be measured. Calling for a revolution in education might seem like the obvious course, but if it fails, we could end up damaging the lives of millions of children. Then again, the same could be said for leaving the education industry in its outdated state.

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Instead, we need to speed up the evolution and adoption of EdTech so that our children can be better educated in the context of this hyper-connected digital era.

The 5 Problems Facing EdTech

Education expert Matthew Lynch once explained the reasons why the U.S. education system is failing, and not just the U.S. system but systems all over the world. As put forth by the article, the most pressing reasons are:

  1. Schools are overcrowded.
  2. School spending is stagnant.
  3. A lack of teacher innovation.
  4. A lack of involvement from parents.
  5. Technology has become synonymous with entertainment.

For decades now, technology has failed to solve these issues on a large scale, but the blame cannot rest solely with the EdTech industry. Some innovations may have been destined to fail, sure, but others could have exceeded our expectations.

Robert French believes that in these latter cases, the education system has actually failed the tech industry by remaining so hostile to change. After all, the EdTech industry has indeed made rapid advancements in recent years and there is evidence that each of these issues may soon be solved.

The main issue, then, is whether the education system will take advantage of this opportunity to grow. Let’s explore what these issues are and how technology could actually solve them for good.

1. Overcrowded Classrooms

A 2009 University of London report stated that “once the class size passes a certain point, the teachers are bound to ‘fail’ because the demands on their time cannot be met”. In essence, the root of this problem is not the number of children in a classroom but rather the inability for each child to receive adequate attention.

Sigma 2 Problem Graph

In 1984, Benjamin Bloom conducted research that undeniably showed that through combining his “mastery learning” techniques and 1:1 tuition, students could perform far beyond other students who were being taught in more conventional ways.

It’s with this knowledge that EdTech company Matchbook Learning works with some of the worst performing, overcrowded schools in the U.S. You can see an overview of their approach, building on the research of Bloom, in the video below:

By combining blended learning (where face-to-face teaching is combined with online learning) with real-time data, we can get rapid feedback in classrooms and use that feedback to further enhance the quality of education.

As an example, consider a classroom of 30 students. Ten students with similar abilities may work closely with the teacher, another ten may work through lectures and online tasks using computer terminals, and the final ten may work together on a group project. In the next lesson, students are rotated so they can learn in different ways throughout the course.

This kind of approach enables the teacher to focus more closely on fewer children at once. The teacher can also tailor the learning approach for each student based on how well each one works for the individual. Meanwhile, the software on the computes is advanced enough to tailor the content to each student as well.

Matchbook Learning Results

By collecting real-time feedback on each child’s results, the course contents can be adapted per student and make it as if they were receiving a one-on-one tuition.

This approach allows each student to have their own learning path that’s customized to their needs. By doing this, teachers can easily see which students are falling behind and offer more individualized teaching to those students. The results, as you can see below, have been fantastic. (Each 10% gain is equal to a year’s worth of learning.)

If more schools were to adopt a similar approach, where some responsibilities could be handled by tech-aided learning methods, more of the teachers’ time could be freed-up to give more attention where it’s needed the most, even in larger classroom sizes.

2. Excessive Spending

Donors Choose is a “pioneering crowdfunding site” that allows regular people — like you and me — to fund teachers who want to run educational projects but lack the money to do so. Donors can find projects that inspire them and then choose to give however much money they want to the teacher.

It’s basically Kickstarter for school projects where you can personally pitch in and help, such as by funding the purchase of Chromebooks or funding the transport costs of a field trip. This tool has the potential to turn once-impossible ideas into an educational reality for kids across the country.

Since its founding in 2000, 69% of public schools in the U.S. have posted projects on the site and over two million citizens have donated well over $400 million, benefiting at least 18 million students.

This is more than a glimmer of hope for a system where lack of funding is one of its biggest problems. And with state education budgets still extremely tight, harnessing the power of the $30 billion crowdfunding industry is a promising way to loosen those purse-strings.

3. Teacher Innovation

In an article on creative teaching, author David Greene writes:

Academic creativity has been drained from degraded and overworked experienced teachers. Uniformity has sucked the life out of teaching and learning.

If teachers were given more freedom, as would likely happen if a blended learning model were introduced as mentioned above, innovation would rocket — and an education system overhaul isn’t exactly necessary to accomplish that.

After all, there are (and will always be) plenty of options open to teachers to introduce more creativity and innovation to their lessons. Some of these options would cost money, but as we’ve seen, Donors Choose could certainly help there.

Bored Students

Other options include BlinkLearning, which allows teachers to create their own personalized, interactive courses from content provided by a range of publishers. Students can then access these courses on any device, while the app keeps a record of how they are progressing. If students are struggling, the course can quickly be altered.

A more lightweight option is to use Learnist to curate relevant content to guide students through courses.

If students struggle with boredom, game-based learning can be introduced with KinectEDucation. This is an education community where teachers can download and upload apps and resources for Microsoft Kinect, and learn from the experiences of other teachers. GameDesk is another company creating EdTech games for a variety of subjects.

The list goes on, from using social media 10 Amazing Ways For Teachers & Tutors To Use Twitter In Education 10 Amazing Ways For Teachers & Tutors To Use Twitter In Education Twitter like all other social media is a virtual Aladdin’s cave. It is a gateway to riches. But just like in the story, this Aladdin’s cave is also booby-trapped. Use it right and you will... Read More to share ideas to using Google Hangouts to form a virtual bookclub. In the future, we’ll even see virtual reality field trips, 3D printers in the classroom, and projects managed entirely in OneNote How to Use OneNote at School: 10 Tips for Students & Teachers How to Use OneNote at School: 10 Tips for Students & Teachers OneNote can transform the modern classroom. The note-taking app from Microsoft is designed for both students and teachers. Go ahead and organize, collaborate, and share with these tips for better note-taking. Read More .

4. Parental Involvement

In an article on why technology has failed, Paul D. Fernhout explains that there are two types of learning: learning just in case, which is like the rote memorization approach taken by most schools, and learning on demand, where we acquire information as we need it (not as frequently practiced in schools).

Technology is already fantastic for on-demand education How to Learn Anything New with 5 Sure-Fire Tips How to Learn Anything New with 5 Sure-Fire Tips How do you learn effectively? What can you do to minimize the amount of wasted time and maximize the amount of knowledge you retain? The short answer -- use smart strategies. Read More , and that technology is available to all of us at home by means of the Internet. So, this is where parents can currently take the mantle from time-stricken teachers and offer some fun on-demand knowledge to their children.

Kid Using COmputer

In the current schooling landscape, there just isn’t time for large amounts of group projects and problem-solving exercises, but these are the kinds of exercises that children can be set with at home. When a child is given a problem exercise and the use of a smartphone, tablet, or computer, on-demand learning happens naturally.

Used in conjunction with the school curriculum, this can really help children to progress.

For example, if your child is learning about Excel spreadsheets at school, try setting them the challenge of creating a pocket-money calculator in Excel. Searching Google, watching YouTube videos, or studying Excel templates can offer real education in practical settings. There are tons of other educational projects you can try out, too.

5. Tech Is Not Just Entertainment

To finish, let’s look at the issue of how technology has become synonymous with entertainment. The alleged problem here is that when children use technology, they enter an entertainment mode rather than a study mode.

And this is the moment where we need to ask ourselves: Why does education have to be seen as opposed to entertainment?

School VR Headset

As neurologist Judy Willis once explained:

The truth is that when joy and comfort are scrubbed from the classroom and replaced with homogeneity, and when spontaneity is replaced with conformity, students’ brains are distanced from effective information processing and long-term memory storage.

And

The highest-level executive thinking, making of connections, and “aha” moments are more likely to occur in an atmosphere of “exuberant discovery,” where students of all ages retain that kindergarten enthusiasm of embracing each day with the joy of learning.

In other words, education does not (and should not) need to be a chore. Throughout this article, I’ve given a number of EdTech solutions that truly work and encourage entertainment in education, from gamifying the classroom Why Games May Become the Education of the Future Why Games May Become the Education of the Future Parents and teachers are often wary of letting kids spend time playing video games, but a number of developers are introducing mods of popular games into the classroom and re-imagining how video games can support... Read More and introducing fun projects DIY Dad & Mom: Raise Your Kid to Be a Tinkerer with Cool Home Projects DIY Dad & Mom: Raise Your Kid to Be a Tinkerer with Cool Home Projects Do you and your kids tinker together? If not, start today. Teach them to create things and you teach them to take control of their world. Read More  to funding more field trips and creating personalized, interactive courses.

In fact, we’ve already written about games becoming the future of education Why Games May Become the Education of the Future Why Games May Become the Education of the Future Parents and teachers are often wary of letting kids spend time playing video games, but a number of developers are introducing mods of popular games into the classroom and re-imagining how video games can support... Read More  and about how some old games could be used for teaching 9 Old Educational Games You Can Play Right Now for Free 9 Old Educational Games You Can Play Right Now for Free Miss those educational video games from the 80s and 90s? You can play them again right now for free! Read More . As Dann Albright wrote in the former article:

From a psychological perspective, it makes perfect sense: teachers have been using games for ages. Did you ever play Jeopardy in biology class? A quiz game in English? Have a popsicle-stick bridge building competition in physics?

These games are challenging and motivational. But games — or any other form of entertainment — with a technological element can be so much more immersive, responsive, and effective, which thereby makes it so much more valuable as a learning aid. More so than lectures, board games, and dull rote tasks, anyway.

Consider the difference in impact between teaching the wonders of history through a lifeless textbook or through an immersive virtual reality tour. It’s clear which one would be more effective, so whenever education can be fun, then it should be fun.

Education + Technology = The Future

In a world where technology has the power to transform industries and offer entertainment to every dull moment 20 Fun Things to Do Online When You're Bored at Work 20 Fun Things to Do Online When You're Bored at Work We all love working, don't we? I'm sure none of you reading this would have it any other way than to sit at a desk for hours with little to show for it other than... Read More we encounter, it’s time for educators to more whole-heartedly adopt some of these innovations. Not for the sole purpose of improving grades or cutting costs, but to offer our children a more fulfilling educational experience.

And, perhaps more importantly, to empower teachers to more effectively help struggling children while introducing innovation back into the classroom.

Do you think it’s time more schools introduced more technology into the classroom? Or do you think classrooms are ok as they are?

Image Credits: elementary school by Syda Productions via Shutterstock, Classroom by Lead Beyond (Flickr), Next generation by zeitfaenger.at (Flickr), The poor man’s VR headset by Kimubert (Flickr)

  1. Mauritius
    April 29, 2016 at 1:35 pm

    The most informative and comprehensive article I’ve ever read! When I was reading the article, it seemed to me that I sank into a pool of thoughts. I do agree that the technological products are able to fill a lot of gaps in educational sphere. Teaching and technologies are inseparable parts nowadays. The current gap in education is academic dishonesty. I'm guessing plagiarism has been a problem as long as our world have existed. We must carefully control the quality of students' assignments, research paper and even essays. I can hazard a guess that the anti plagiarism reform may lead to the creation of a mechanism of centrally planned regulation of the academic integrity. My opinion is that universities, colleges and schools should cultivate the sense of respect for intellectual property rights in students' minds and teach them how to use their own thoughts. The first step for achieving this education goal can be the integration of plagiarism checking software like Unplag into the classroom. First of all, it will teach students the copyright base, original thinking and respectful attitude to the other's fruit of labor.

    • Rob Nightingale
      May 18, 2016 at 10:41 am

      Thank you so much for the kind words! I think intellectual property is a very big issue. In a world where streaming Game of Thrones is no longer seen as "morally wrong", we are in a position to completely alter our approach to intellectual property. Unfortunately, I'm not in a position to speculate on that, though!

  2. Cid Williams
    April 19, 2016 at 3:42 pm

    I have read through all these comments, and there are some really good ideas. I have been involved in education and technology for about ten years now and I have raised my children in a school system that continually receives ratings of C's and D's. My senior is graduating with a 3.96, is 4th in her class of 296. She has taken AP classes all the way through HS and college classes her junior and senior years. She was involved in two or three sports activities throughout HS, worked a job starting at age 16 and was involved in several clubs as well. My husband and I work, we attend as many activities of theirs as we can, sometime splitting up. Their laundry must be clean and put away and their rooms must be clean by Friday morning or they do not get to do anything on the weekend, even if they get home and do it then, ( this has forced them to plan accordingly around their schedules). They have been doing their own laundry since age of 13. They also must plan and cook one meal a week. As a family we sit down on Sunday and choose the meals for the week. We use an app called Cozi this way everyone puts their appointments, games, and schedules on it, we know where everyone is going to be and who is responsible for what. When my husband and I need to "discuss" something, we take it to a location where our children are not. We do not yell at our children, we sit down and discuss with our children. If it starts to get out of hand, we table it, and come back later.

    The point I am trying to make....YES our children's education is ultimately the responsibility of the PARENTS. It is our responsibility to "teach" our children the daily habits they need to be citizens in this world. To be responsible, dedicated, honorable and truthful individuals that strive to be the best they can be. It is our responsibility to set the limits and follow through with the punishment. We accepted this when we became parents. An educators responsibility is to further educate our children on reading, writing, and mathematics; as well as some problem solving skills. They should not have to deal with behavioral problems, disrespect, or lack of initiative at school.

    I whole heartedly agree students should be classed according to ability. This way focus can be placed where it needs to be. Group work is more successful. The educator is not bouncing around. I also feel that students should be classed according to gender except for athletics, music and art, etc. If you do your research, you will find that boys and girls minds, senses and interpretations are very different and effect classroom instruction techniques and how they interact.

    I feel that money that is being pumped into schools for all these programs that fail, would be better spend pumping into social programs for kids that do not have the support system at home. Take them out of these homes with parents that don't care or can't take care of them and put them in a dormitory like housing complex, with several chaperones that can manage them and give them the support, guidance, attention and discipline they need. We have all these newly returned veterans that are homeless, let them take charge of them. There are outstanding examples of this type of scenario in communities dotted across the nation, if only it would become more widespread.

    About technology, it has it's place; but only if the teacher has been properly trained on its use and knows how to integrate it. Until school boards are willing to provide the training to ensure teachers are meeting NETS-T goals and that theirs students are meeting NETS-S, by making these standards a part of their evaluation system, then technology integration in the classroom will fail as a whole. Yes you will have teachers that will excel here and there, but not every student will reap the benefits. Statewide teacher PD programs are starting to become more popular, so that no matter which district a teacher transfers to they will have met the same requirements and do not have to scramble to meet new requirements. The same can hold true for technology training and integration.

    • Rob Nightingale
      May 18, 2016 at 10:39 am

      Completely agree with you when you say "YES our children’s education is ultimately the responsibility of the PARENTS. It is our responsibility to “teach” our children the daily habits they need to be citizens in this world". And congrats to your children on their great results!

      It's true that there will need to be regular training and assessment of teachers to keep them up to date with a constantly evolving technology, but I guess this is just part and parcel of the process.

  3. Kattz
    April 6, 2016 at 8:13 pm

    As funding gets cut one of the first areas to go seems to be the school library. I was in grade school during the 1970's in a small city in Ontario, Canada. We were fortunate to have an excellent library and librarian in our school. The little bit of "tech" that we did have was kept there.

    Our librarian tried to get to know each child and their interests and abilities. There was a book for everyone. If a child had difficulty with reading she worked with that child so that they had a book that matched their reading level so that he or she wouldnt become frustrated. There were books with records for the children who were having difficulties. There were sports and fashion magazines. As long as you were reading something she was happy.

    I really got to know our librarian because unfortunately she got cancer. When she became ill she trained several of us older students to run her library. We had help from a part-time replacement and she came in whenever she could. It was the best learning experience that I had all throughout my school years. My teachers taught me. That librarian taught me how to learn and how to find any information that I needed.

    The modern librarian knows a lot about tech and the school librarian is the best resource that the teachers and students have. They have knowledge of the information technology that is available to help both the students and teachers. We need these experts in the schools as a foundation for whatever technology based learning we are going to implement.

    • Rob Nightingale
      April 12, 2016 at 4:12 pm

      Well said, and I completely agree! :)

  4. fcd76218
    April 6, 2016 at 3:04 pm

    1. Schools are overcrowded.
    The answer is obvious, build more schools and hire more teachers. However, that costs money. More money means bigger school budgets. Bigger school budgets means higher taxes and nobody wants to pay higher taxes. Nobody sees more schools as an investment in the future. Their focus, just like the focus of most of the corporate world short term.

    2. School spending is stagnant.
    See #1, people don't want to pay higher taxes. I wonder what Mr. Lynch means exactly by "stagnant"? School budgets are going up every year, even with the 2% cap in force. However, very little of the budget money is spent directly on educating the students. Most of it goes to administrative overhead.

    3. A lack of teacher innovation.
    With Common Core, No Child Left Behind and other initiatives and with the constant increase in state mandated tests, teachers are forced to "teach to the test." They have less and less time to innovate and actually teach.

    4. A lack of involvement from parents.
    Parents used to continue at home what teachers began in class. When little Johnny went home with a negative note from his teacher, he faced some kind of punishment from his parents. Over time the wheel has turned 180 degrees. Parents and teachers have become adversaries. Now, if little Johnny goes home with a note about his inappropriate behavior or lack of effort in class, there is a very good chance that his parents will take his side against the teacher. They may even sue the school and the teacher for not forcing Johnny to learn.

    Of course, it does not help that over the same span of time, there has been an increase in single parent and dual income homes. Parents are just unable to spend as much time with their kids as they used to to.

    5. Technology has become synonymous with entertainment.
    Teachers have been reduced to the roles of babysitters or guards, depending on the general behavior of the children. Kids that are entertained are easier to control.

    • Rob Nightingale
      April 12, 2016 at 4:12 pm

      So do you not think tech could help with these issues?

      • fcd76218
        April 12, 2016 at 9:18 pm

        Nos. 1-4 are human issues that have to do with either attitudes or management policies. Short of doing a mind wipe and indoctrinating everybody with the same group think, there is nothing technology can do.

        As for No. 5, technology can replace the teachers as guards/babysitters.

  5. Edward
    April 6, 2016 at 1:36 pm

    Interesting article. The overwhelming majority of teachers I know are trying to do the best they can with what they've got. But I'm concerned that the way the word "failure" continues to be bandied about. Our schools are NOT all failing. Can we just stop saying that? Because it's inaccurate and sounds ridiculous.

    Numerous schools -- public, public charter and private -- are fantastic places to learn and grow. Students get a great education and the teachers there are always learning as well. And they didn't require revolutions or huge technological deployments to get that way. My nephew's school is a good example: Yes, the teachers make certain lessons available online to buttress what's been taught but the kids still use textooks and there are still daily lessons, classwork, group study, homework, presentations, quizzes and tests. Class size is less than average: 15 - 20 kids per class, something that in itself is a key factor.

    I know this is a pretty uncomfortable fact of life, but the key problem in schools that have problems isn't the lack of some blindingly brilliant technology or teaching technique, or even necessarily class size because a class of 25 high achievers with curious minds and great home life will always outperform.

    No, the uncomfortable fact is that many parents don't give a rat's ass about learning. Schools are just a form of day care for their kids. The parents (if they work) aren't reading or working on the next big thing. They are not curious, not intellectual, not artistic and not involved. They sit around and watch a lot of TV. Many of them are superstitious and for lack of a better word, just plain stupid. And (SURPRISE) their children are just like them. And they don't just not learn, they get in the way of others' learning. They're not necessarily disruptive but they are a distraction. But many ARE disruptive. Even an average-rated school (based on test score performance or any other metric you can name) has some really good students, but it's always the same problem: If you take the great students out of an average school, then it's no longer an average school. The "C" becomes an "F" because all that's left behind are the losers. Sorry to be so blunt but let me explain further.

    "Loser" students don't care about learning in the first place. Now I don't want you to think that they're the norm. They're only the norm with racists and other assholes who have some anti-education agenda. But there are quite a few of them. They don't care what the class size is, or what technological gizmo is being deployed, or what subgroup they're being rotated through, or even what the teacher is saying. They certainly don't give a crap about educational equity or what intellectuals like ourselves think. They don't care about the future of the American educational system, how much money is being spent on education, what tests are being used to measure their performance, or what colleges are looking for. A few of them will eventually wake up once they've done a stint in jail or had to do some other kind of really hard work. Others never will and they end up becoming full-time criminals.

    The bottom line is this: TECHNOLOGY IS NOT THE ANSWER. Beyond Internet access and a sufficient number of modern computers, and access to a TI-83 or better graphing calculator, the primary determination of learning outcomes is the educational attainment (and or commitment) of the child's FAMILY along with reasonable class sizes and a safe place to go to school. I changed careers to get into the education field and this very discussion has been continuously occurring for hundreds of years. (Obviously they weren't talking about graphing calculators in 1816 or 1916 but the point is the same.) Our mission in education is to encourage and support the brightest, help the second tier students overcome their limitations whether self-imposed or whether resulting from unsupportive communities and peers, and get the disruptive ones away from the others where they can be closely supervised, disciplined and possibly saved from a wasted life. And all along the way we need committed teachers to do that job, who have the resources and subject matter knowledge (and yes, if necessary, law enforcement to forcibly remove the losers) to make it happen. Bada bing. It's really as simple as that.

    • Rob Nightingale
      April 12, 2016 at 4:15 pm

      Unfortunately, I do agree with some of your statements about parents, but not so much with your comments about tech. Although tech is not the answer, it must be PART of the answer. We are now in a time where we cannot avoid tech. To try and keep schooling outside of the digital revolution is asking for trouble, and will only make teaching harder and harder to teachers... if we can use technology to aid teachers, why should we reject it?

      • fcd76218
        April 12, 2016 at 10:33 pm

        @Rob:
        " Although tech is not the answer, it must be PART of the answer."
        Technology by itself will not make much of a difference. What needs to happen is for the governments to quit trying to socially engineer society and let teachers teach. Politicians should keep their greasy fingers out of education. The vast majority of them do not know WTF they're doing.

    • fcd76218
      April 12, 2016 at 10:23 pm

      @Edward:
      " But I’m concerned that the way the word “failure” continues to be bandied about."
      "Failure" has become a political assessment, not a professional or educational one. I don't know what the situation is in other states, although I'm pretty sure that it is the same, but in New York the state government is using "failure" as part of a political agenda ram through changes to education. The results of standardized tests given to the students are used to evaluate the performance of the teachers. The government's assumption is that if a student performs poorly on the tests, the fault is entirely the teacher's for not being able to make the student learn. It's as if a teacher was some great wizard that would wave a magic wand and/or chant an incantation and all the students would automagically know the subject. No consideration is given to the fact that certain students just do not want to learn. No consideration is given to the fact that some students need special assistance to learn. No consideration is given to the fact that in some schools, the teachers are forced by circumstances to be more guards than teachers. In certain scenarios even the best teachers can fail to teach through no fault of their own.

      In 2014 this point was brought painfully home to the NY state governor and his select committee on education. Around 40% of teachers in the New York City suburban school districts were deemed to be "poor" teachers based on the results of the standardized tests. Needless to say, the entire state educational establishment was shocked and taken aback. The seven counties that constitute the NYC suburbs are home to the majority of the state's best ranked schools. How could 40% of the teachers in those schools be lousy?! To make a long story shorter, after much dramatics it was determined that the teachers were good, it was the methodology of evaluating them that was lousy.

      "Numerous schools — public, public charter and private — are fantastic places to learn and grow."
      Charter schools cherry pick their students, as do private schools. Plus the private schools have discipline, something that can rarely be said about public schools.
      Public schools that provide a good learning environment, break up the students into classes of similar ability so that they learn at pretty much the same speed.

      "“Loser” students don’t care about learning in the first place. Now I don’t want you to think that they’re the norm."
      No, they are not the norm. There may be one or two per class but their ability to disrupt a class is way out of proportion to their number.

  6. Larry Alvarado
    April 5, 2016 at 4:29 am

    Too many studies show that the number of kids in a classroom (up to a certain number) is not a great factor in student learning. A great teacher is an important factor (just as with preschool - kids thrive in high quality pre-schools - but they cost and only some can afford to send their kids there - government sponsored and funded preschool does not become high quality preschool) No matter what system you use to improve schools, if you do not have high quality teachers and principles running them, they won't improve as needed. they will improve I'm sure but catching up to higher performing students - doubt it

    Tutoring, coaching, etc. is important since it gives students more on to one attention but as pointed out, that's costly. Having a way for those who learn quicker to advance faster is important. Giving those who struggle more time, attention, tutoring, etc. so they catch up and stay on grade level is more of what is needed. We are discovering ways to learn things faster, better but we need high level and performing teachers which the present system of choosing who will teach, training them and putting them into schools does not do. Finland chooses their teachers with more strict rules and higher level performers to choose from. They also expect them to have a Masters degree and be able to work autonomously and be in charge of their classroom. Though we have more local decision making in schools we can do some things that can get us closer to help students perform better. Finland is more a central decision making of how schools will work but it is a much smaller country and more homogeneous than are USA students. We assume too much that a teacher is a teacher and they are interchangeable and can all perform at the level needed and can use any system demanded of them. Not true but tenure rules who stays and who goes. We lose too many potentially high performing teachers since about 50% of teachers leave in the first 5 years. We have a shortage of teachers because of the system we use - last in, first out, tenure, unions decide the rules of what is expected of teachers and it takes too long and costs too much to get rid of those who are not functioning well. Most teachers rate each other well, above average so they have a stake to support each other no matter how any one of them are performing.

    • Rob Nightingale
      April 6, 2016 at 12:37 pm

      Thanks for joining the conversation, Larry. I don't disagree that good teachers cannot be replaced. THey are the keystone to a good education. But you mentioned that "Too many studies show that the number of kids in a classroom (up to a certain number) is not a great factor in student learning."... do you think technology could actually help with raising standards in overcrowded schools?

  7. fcd76218
    April 2, 2016 at 3:38 pm

    " the root of this problem is not the number of children in a classroom but rather the inability for each child to receive adequate attention."
    Is that some kind of newspeak? The inability for children to receive adequate attention is directly related to the number of children in the classroom. Less children = more attention per child. So the number of children IS the root problem, no matter how you try to spin it.

    One way to lessen the effects of overcrowding is to group children in classes by ability rather than just glomming 30 or 35 kids of all abilities in the same room. When all kids in the room are of the same learning ability, the teacher can need not take as much time tutoring individuals and can spend more time teaching the class as a whole. In a classroom where all students are more or less on the same level, they motivate and stimulate each other more. Less students will be marginalized either by not understanding or by being bored. Schools all across the US are eliminating or cutting down on the number of Advanced Placement and Honors classes. Why? Because "progressive" educators and child psychologists have decreed that being excluded from Honors and AP classes will negatively affect the egos and self-esteem of the less bright? Has anybody thought of the psychological effects on the gifted? As the Negro College Fund ads proclaim "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." By forcing kids to try to keep up with the brighter ones and/or forcing the brighter ones to constantly wait for the slower ones, we are doing a disservice to both by wasting their innate learning abilities.

    • Rob Nightingale
      April 6, 2016 at 12:34 pm

      "The inability for children to receive adequate attention is directly related to the number of children in the classroom."

      As mentioned in this article, this isn't the case. It's getting the cause of the problem confused. The cause of the problem is associated with number of children. In reality, the cause of the problem is lack of attention. As argued, attention per child can be increased without additional teachers, and without reducing class sizes, by using technology carefully.

      "Less students will be marginalized either by not understanding or by being bored. Schools all across the US are eliminating or cutting down on the number of Advanced Placement and Honors classes. Why? Because “progressive” educators and child psychologists have decreed that being excluded from Honors and AP classes will negatively affect the egos and self-esteem of the less bright?"

      I understand where you're coming from. The classes in my school were split depending on ability, and it did indeed help with keeping students from falling behind.There are problems with that set up, so we should not assume it's perfect, and go to it as our default though. Perhaps there is a better alternative... an alternative that tech may help to introduce?

      • fcd76218
        April 6, 2016 at 2:20 pm

        "In reality, the cause of the problem is lack of attention."
        While the immediate problem is lack of attention, what caused that lack? You and the author of the study are concentrating on the final effect. You are trying to treat the symptoms of the disease, not the cause of the disease.

        "Perhaps there is a better alternative…"
        Over the past 50 years or so, since I finished my primary and secondary education, I've seen progressive educators offer up many "better alternatives." Somehow most, if not all, of these alternatives did not last very long. Eventually there was a return to the methods that have worked for hundreds of years and were honed over thousands. Technology is an aid in education, not a magic bullet.

  8. Don
    April 1, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    This is a good article. I haven't looked through all the linked studies; but I do notice that there's one piece that's glossed over: the relationship of the teacher and EdTech. We need to understand that the biggest obstacle to employing technology in the classrooms is the teacher themselves (I teach, as well as have performed duties as an academic technologist, and currently as IT support for an educational institution). By "obstacle," I mean that telling a teacher that using technology will help them reach students is nice; but that forces the teacher to adopt methods that may not actually facilitate the relationship of teacher/student. We don't hand carpenters a particular tool and say, "make a chair"; we tell them we need a chair, and they use the correct tools to create the chair. This article touches on this by identifying lots of different technology that can be used; what needs to be addressed more closely is stressing how the teacher can use available technology to match their teaching style, and augment the teacher/student relationship. Thus, the relationship is a triangle: technology/teacher/student.
    Also, Point #2 misses the biggest problem with "excessive spending": technology vendors have created great, complex systems to support education, but that complexity also results in high--even outrageous--technology costs. It's great that you mention some free, or relatively low-cost options in the paragraph; but until the EdTech vendors can find ways to reduce the cost of developing EdTech systems, those high/outrageous costs will continue to be passed on to the educational institutions that cannot afford the newest, better thing.

    • Rob Nightingale
      April 6, 2016 at 12:30 pm

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Don. I agree with much of what you say, and as mentioned in the article, tech is no substitute for great teachers. But there is a balancing act at work. Unfortunately, as you say, the cost of tech is incredibly high right now. But I believe that once there a few leaders in this space (Facebook is doing some interesting, independent, non-profit work in this area) then economies of scale will help to reduce those costs.

      In terms of having tech match individual teaching styles, this is a very good point, and one that needs addressing much more closely.

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