NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

School Reform and Education Technology

November 6, 2013

Over the past two decades, U.S. presidents, governors, CEOs and journalists have trumpeted technology's power to transform schools. Yet technology never seems to deliver on its promise to be an education game-changer. This is because technology cannot drive meaningful change by itself -- it must be coupled with a commitment by school leaders to reinvent teaching and learning, say Frederick M. Hess, director of education studies at the American Enterprise Institute, Bror Saxberg, chief learning officer at Kaplan Inc., and Taryn Hochleitner, a research associate at the American Enterprise Institute.

Policymakers and reformers should take cues from school systems such as Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina, which successfully employs technology to make learning solutions more affordable, reliable, available, customizable and data-rich.

  • Starting in 2007, Mooresville began issuing laptops to all students in grades 4 through 12 and to licensed staff, providing 24-hour Internet access and adopting smart boards in all kindergarten through third-grade classrooms.
  • Technology does not change the cognitive rules for learning, but offers ways to better deliver the learning experience.

State legislatures should encourage technology-enabled reinvention of schools by loosening seat-time requirements and online-learning restrictions, revisiting school spending rules, relaxing teacher evaluation policies, and supporting innovative school models.

  • State legislatures should remove geographic restrictions or enrollment caps on virtual schools and online learning.
  • States and federal officials should revisit procurement rules and make it easier for schools and districts to spend funds sensibly.

These wise words serve as a reminder that the power of technology lies in dynamic reinvention consistent with how learning works, and not in the hollow hope that a new device or application will by itself miraculously address America's educational challenges.

Source: Frederick M. Hess, Bror Saxberg and Taryn Hochleitner, "E-Rate, Education Technology, and School Reform," American Enterprise Institute, October 2013.


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