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for American Awesomeness

The State of Our Schools: The Role of Technology in Advancement

Avik Sarker April 9th, 2013
The educational system comprises a fundamental structure of American society--it provides a foundation of knowledge and a set of skills that aid the younger generations to succeed in their futures. Being within the information age, technology has come and continues to shape how educators teach, shape, and prepare the children of the country for the future to come. During President Obamas 2013 State of the Union address, he mentions the need for high-tech schools and the implementation of modern schools worthy of our children.1 Despite being an economic powerhouse and one of the more developed countries of the world, the United States still lags behind other developed countries when it comes to the success of the educational system with regards to their students cognitive skill sets and educational success rates, according to a report from the educational firm Pearson conducted in 2012.2 Smaller countries such as Japan, South Korea, and Finland score higher in each of these areas with the most comparable educational data used from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; the United States lags behind these in seventeenth place overall, as shown within Figure 1. As a result of the recent downward trend in ranks the United States that has become more apparent within the past decade, the Federal and State governments have continually tried to reform the educational system through a multiple of means. This includes the incorporation of recent technological innovations, such as computers, laptops, and handheld devices like the iPad. By looking at the current problems teachers in the United States face with schooling their children, technologys effectiveness within the school environment, other solutions to the problem that must be considered, and current United States policy regarding schooling, recommendations for policy can be created incorporating elements of balanced technology usage to best prepare students for the ever changing field of post-secondary education.

Figure 1: International Rankings of School Systems

Current Problems of Americas Schools

Prior to give solutions to the persisting problem of lowered educational achievement compared to the rest of the world, the problem itself must be investigated thoroughly. What exactly are the deficiencies of the current school infrastructure as to keep students from attaining a higher level of achievement? The question of the problem itself existing does not seem to be an issue due to its frequent mention within the Presidents State of the Union Addresses, the various policies such as the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 that have been enacted, and where the United States stands educationally, as mentioned before. Looking at the current infrastructure of schools, the American Society of Civil Engineers gives Americas school buildings a D, indicating that much of Americas school buildings are reaching the end of their life and that they are not fit for the future to come.3 This should come as worrying as the state of how and what students learn is constantly changing, so the buildings they house them in should be able to provide this for them. In comparison with current views of Americas needs, as in Obamas speech, having deficient schools results does not allow children to reap all the benefits of a twenty-first century education.

It is also important to define what it means to have twenty-first century skills, as this term is used often when referring to getting a modern education. The definition varies from institution to institution, but they many emphasize being literate with technology and proactive in using it in the workforce. For example, the Iowa Department of Education defines the skills within 5 frameworks, including employability, financial, health, civic, and technological skills, all integrated with the ability to communicate well and think critically.4 Regarding student achievement, i.e. graduation rates, students are not graduating across the board at the same rates. Using data from 2010-2011, the United States Department of Education found that Asian students graduated the most at a rate of 79 percent, white students at 76 percent, black students at 60 percent, and Latino students at 58 percent.5 Looking at this data, it is not a question that school systems needs to be improved, it is just how to do, technology being one answer to this question. Looking at the problem of access to technology within schools, numbers nationwide have improved over the years. According to one Pew Internet study from 2002, it was noted one of the biggest factors regarding deficient technology within the school setting was quality access to the Internet and the students access to the Internet outside of school.6 However, more recent studies by Pew Internet show that as of 2010, 95 percent of school-age teens now have access to the Internet.7 According to another more recent Pew Internet survey, 68 percent of teachers indicate that their districts have done a good job at providing the technological and digital tools in the classroom.8

Role of Technology in the Learning: Benefits and Concerns

With the need of schools to improve an economic imperative, many school administrators and the government consider technology incorporation and instruction to be key to the success of Americas students in their future endeavors in college and the job market. The Federal government has offered schools around the country in the recent past to be able to incorporate technology through the use of competitive grants, averaging about $150,000 in 2004.9 With a majority of teachers now saying that that the Internet and related technologies have been well provided by their districts, it is clear that the United States is further allowing its schools to incorporate the possibility of technological instruction in schools. Education with the use of the Internet possesses multiple benefits. The Department of Education emphasizes the use of the Internet as it makes learning opportunities available to learners, educators, and administrators regardless of their location, the time of day, or the type of access devices. It supports not just access to information, but also the creation of content and access to people and participation in online learning communities.10 Internet technologies further allow educators to impart twenty-first century skills into their curriculum.

By looking to the extreme ends of the technological spectrum, the technological state of the public schools can be compared. First, take the one extreme of having a high school online. Virtual high schools have been emerging since the early 2000s, all the while garnering praise and criticism for its structure and effectiveness on students learning ability. The structure of the online or virtual school is praised for its ability to offer classes wherever and whenever for the students and the teachers teaching the classes. The form gives much flexibility as to whether or not the teacher and the student interact at the same time, called asynchronous learning. This method of learning may be convenient for both, but there are also concerns of academic dishonesty and quality of teaching. The Arizona Republic looked into how once such online school, the Primavera Online High School, was teaching its students. With regard to course length, the typical course length is 70 hours, but it was found that 10 percent of students finished the classes in 20 hours or less and that 62 percent of students finished the classes in 40 hours or less.11 None of the quizzes and exams are proctored within this system, leading the criticisms that the students may be dishonest or that they may not be challenged enough. This is however, one extreme of the incorporation of technology within schools; in this case, the technology is the school. Looking at the other end of the spectrum, there are schools that minimally incorporate technology within their school, taking the Waldorf School of the Peninsula as a case study. This school is reported to not incorporate any computer within the learning environment, and discourage their use at home for the younger generations.12 They start to incorporate Internet based devices in eighth grade. However, the main points they emphasize are engagement with other people; they criticize the current trend of incorporating electronic devices as distracting to students and inhibiting their ability to communicate effectively. The reported graduation rate is 94 percent, but it comes with a higher cost to go to the school.13 Although these schools are effective, the main criticism is that they do not prepare their students for a technology-based world. By looking at these two extremes within the spectrum of education offered in the United States, it is seen there are benefits and detriments of technology incorporation within schooling. Most public schools, however, fall between these two extremes. Schools typically incorporate technology into some facet of the student learning experience. The results of technology incorporation across the country however are varied for different school districts.

Figure 2: Figures from the Kyrene School District

One school district in Arizona, the Kyrene School District, found that even through investing $33 million in technologies such as laptops and interactive screens, scores have stagnated within the district from 2005 onwards (see Figure 2).14 However, there are also success stories, such as the Mooresville Graded School District. Similar measures have been implemented there, such as individualized laptop distribution. They have seen graduation rates climb from 80 percent to 91 percent from 2008 to 2011.15 Additionally, they claim that technology was not the only key to their districts success; they also explain that a balanced approach between individualized teacher instruction and content learning from the technology to enable the students to learn at their own rate. Such a policy of technology use is a model for how technology should be used within the classroom.

Suggested Approach: Responsible Technology Usage

Considering the benefits and concerns of having technology use in the classroom, technology incorporation within the twenty-first century classroom seems to be essential in teaching the technical skills needed in the workplace realm. Through careful implementation of technology, as seen with Mooresville, technology can be used to supplement teachers and educators in ensuring that learning among the students is occurring. It is clear that simply investing in the technological framework is not enough, given Kyrenes failure to improve significantly when compared to the rest of the state. Such incorporation of technology can be considered hybrid learning, where technology is used in conjunction with traditional teaching methods. According to a meta-analysis of online learning initiatives conducted by the Department of Education, it was found that

blended learning environments fared better that environments where face-to-face interactions were the only form of interaction between the student and the educator.16 Instruction through the use of technology allows for flexibility with the teachers and the students in terms of when and where material can be learned. But as seen with the solely online schools, this may create problems with regards to how well the students are learning. Therefore suggestions to improve the current structure of schooling include: Continuing to invest in the latest technologies that allow for non- intrusive/distracting opportunities for learning Continuing to ensure that instructors are well-versed with the technology and the appropriate use of that technology Ensure that technology is not being used for the sake of using technology

The overall regarding education in the United States is to improve its quality so that students can learn to their highest potential. Traditional methods of learning in the classroom and teaching with the assistance of technology each has its benefits and concerns; however, education policy makers should encourage the use of both in a balanced manner as to make the United States higher on the rungs of educational success.


1 Barack H. Obama, The White House, Remarks by the president in State of the Union Address Washington, D.C, available at office/2013/02/12/remarks-president-state-union-address, 2013. (Apr. 7, 2013) 2 Pearson, The Learning Curve, available at, 2013. (Apr. 7, 2013) 3 American Society of Civil Engineers, Report Card for Americas Infrastructure, available at performance, 2013. (Apr. 7, 2013) 4 Iowa Department of Education, Iowa Core 21st Century Skills, available at d=4344, 2012. (Apr. 7, 2013) 5 United States Department of Education, ED Data Express: Data about elementary & secondary schools in the U.S., available at, 2012. (Apr. 7, 2013) 6 Sousan Arafeh et al., The Digital Disconnect: The widening gap between Internet-savvy students and their schools, available at gap-between-Internetsavvy-students-and-their-schools.aspx, 2002. (Apr. 7, 2013) 7 Pew Internet, Trend Data (Teens), available at Data-(Teens)/Whos-Online.aspx, 2012. (Apr. 7, 2013) 8 Kristen Purcell et al., How Teachers Are Using Technology at Home and in Their Classrooms, available at technology.aspx, Feb. 28, 2013. (Apr. 7, 2013) 9 United States Department of Education, National Educational Technology Trends Study State Strategies Report, Vol. 1, available at, Feb. 20, 2007. (Apr. 7, 2013) 10 United States Department of Education, Using Technology to Transform Schools Remarks by Secretary Arne Duncan at the Association of American Publishers Annual Meeting, available at, 2010. (Apr. 7, 2013) 11 Pat Kossan, Anne Ryman, and Matt Dempsey, Online schools face questions over quality, effectiveness, available at over-quality.html, Dec. 11, 2011. (Apr. 7, 2013) 12 Matt Richtel, A Silicon Valley School that Doesnt Compute, New York Times, Oct. 22, 2011. (Apr. 7, 2013) 13 Ibid. 14 Matt Richtel, In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores, New York Times, Sept. 3, 2011. (Apr. 7, 2013) 15 Alan Schwarz, Mooresvilles Shining Example (Its Not Just About the Laptops), New York Times, Feb. 12, 2012. (Apr. 7, 2013) 16 U.S. Department of Education, Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies, Sept. 2010. (Apr. 7, 2013)