Saturday, November 5, 2011

Pennies from heaven

There's a front page New York Times story today on districts being wooed by Apple:
In visits the officials described as inspirational, they checked out the company’s latest gadgets, discussed the instructional value of computers with high-level Apple executives and engineers, and dined with them and other educators at trendy restaurants. Apple paid for meals and their stay at a nearby inn.
The visits paid off for Apple too — to the tune of $1.2 million in sales. In September, Little Falls handed out iPads to 1,700 of its 2,500 students at a celebration in the school gym. And a few days earlier, 200 teachers got a pep talk via video chat from an Apple executive whom the school superintendent had come to know during his company visits.
This is part of a big trend by technology companies to make money off of school districts, even as there's some question about how much difference technology makes in how students learn:
The sales pitches come as questions persist about how effective high-tech products can be at improving student achievement. The companies say their products engage students and prepare them for a digital future, while some academics say technology is not fulfilling its promise.
I found this interesting in light of a press release that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt put out this week around the contract they have with the district around the innovation and Level 4 schools. Frankly, we've been seeing a lot of HMH people: they've been at School Committee meetings, press briefings (where they've provided the muffins), and elsewhere. (And if I'm seeing a lot of them, you can bet that our administrators are seeing even more of them!)
I don't at all mean that we've been bought by a basket of muffins; I don't think that's the case. There is a lot of money flying around (in this case, Race to the Top funds for the innovation and Level 4 schools), and companies are going straight after it. My fear is that what we're doing is spending the money as fast as we get it (or even faster; the RTTT money isn't actually in yet), without taking nearly enough time and care to make sure that it actually does what it's supposed to do. I raised this question (and I wasn't alone), but administration was definitely sold, as demonstrated in the press release:
"The opportunity to implement a comprehensive technology platform that gives students, parents and teachers greater connectivity is at the crux of our interest," said Dr. Jeffrey Mulqueen, Chief Academic Officer, Worcester Public Schools. "Pinpoint allows us to break free from time and place, allowing teachers and parents to work more productively."
That's the theory. We don't actually know that yet.


Jim Gonyea said...

I always find it interesting that gadgets and technology are pushed in education as indispensible, but those same computers and gadgets were designed, built and programmed by people who were taught in school without computers. The internet was built by people who didn't have an internet. The rocket scientists and engineers who put men on the Moon did it with educations in which they had to use slide rules. Yet today computers in the classroom are indispensible.

Tracy Novick said...

And they can be great or they can be fairly useless.

Jim Gonyea said...

Absolutely. And it needs to be up to the professional educators to decide where they would be useful. Right now it's the salespeople talking to bureaucrats. Public schools spend a lot of money. To paraphrase Rupert Murdoch, public education is a huge untapped market.