SCF Technology Mandate is a Trojan Horse

posted May 2, 2012, 5:07 AM by Common Sense   [ updated May 3, 2012, 5:20 AM by Clayton Trehal ]

A few days ago I received my copy of the “Idaho Education Resource” the propaganda piece by the Albertson's Foundation supporting Students Come First. Since the Albertson's Foundation has gone through all the trouble to put together and mail me this very professional looking nineteen page pamphlet, I felt obligated to read it and I was blown away. Featured inside are stories of innovative teachers who use technology in the classroom, patriarchal farmers who supported tech initiatives in their communities, and cute kids with IPads. Add to this mix stories about charismatic education innovator Sal Khan's digital academy and a list of various technology devices and applications, and what's not to like? Why would the evil IEA and anyone in their right mind oppose the use of technology the Albertson's PR folks describe in their pamphlet and the flood of superior learning that it is sure to create?

I have two words to answer the questions above: Trojan Horse. If you remember the story, the Trojans took this impressive gift from the Greeks into their city thinking they were getting one thing when in fact they were getting something else altogether. We all know how that turned out for them, and so it is with the “technology” component of SCF: the public is being told they are getting technology for their schools when in reality the laptops mandated by the legislation are really the Trojan Horse for the online curriculum that now all schools and districts will be forced to purchase. Remember that the legislation is written in such a way that the “mobile computing devices” stipulated by it will basically end up being laptops rather than Kindles, IPads, etc. Why so specific about which technology to give to the schools? Because laptops are what is needed to take the online courses, which were mandated despite repeated and consistent opposition from the public. What is being packaged as a technology reform is in fact a curriculum reform, and in order to understand its implications, one should look at what this curriculum shift entails.

First, schools and districts will now either have to create their own online curriculum (a task few of our small districts are equipped to do) or purchase this curriculum from outside. While traditionally teachers create curriculum for the districts they are employed in, districts will now pay teachers and online providers for their curriculum, incurring additional costs. Secondly, traditionally teachers paid by the district do all the teaching in school, but if students school online in their physical school buildings (as they are almost certain to do unless the state also wants to pay internet stipends for those students who cannot afford it), now many teachers will spend part of their day only supervising students they used to teach while they school online. Thirdly, if we use the example of K12, Inc., the curriculum schools are mandated to purchase isn't that good: 2/3of K12's schools don't make NCLB's standards of adequate yearly progress and the CEO of the company is currently in a lawsuit against some of its shareholders for misleading the public about test scores. Districts will now pay both teachers and online providers for tasks they used to just pay teachers for, in many cases getting a product with a proven track record for inferiority.

While it is easy to get excited by the promise of technological innovation in our schools, especially when it is professionally packaged as it is in the Idaho Education Resource, we taxpayers should ask ourselves what price we are paying for these shiny gadgets the state wants to put into the hands of our educators and children. We should ask whether it is coincidental or not that a superintendent who has as close connections to for-profit education as Tom Luna does would create legislation that so clearly benefits for-profit educational providers at the expense of local schools. We should also ask ourselves whether it is coincidental or not that the same foundation that is so heavily invested in K12 also just happens to be spending money on expensive pamphlets promoting technology in schools. The Trojan Horse episode inspired the phrase, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts”, and we taxpayers should ask ourselves who benefits most from this new technology as we consider whether to accept this gift or not.

Clayton Trehal