Education Opinion


April 05, 2000 4 min read

Pardon the delay, but Larry Cuban’s Commentary “Is Spending Money on Technology Worth It?” (Feb. 23, 2000) cries out for a reply.

To the Editor:

Pardon the delay, but Larry Cuban’s Commentary “Is Spending Money on Technology Worth It?” (Feb. 23, 2000) cries out for a reply.

Of grave concern to those of us in the schools is the preparation of new teachers. We often lament that new teachers have not been provided the training to effectively use the technologies available to education beyond chalk, blackboards, and the occasional filmstrip projector. The writings of Mr. Cuban, a professor of education at Stanford University, do nothing to diminish our lamentations.

Let us use Mr. Cuban’s “Reason/Evidence” technique to analyze one of his comments. But let us take the Evidence and from that develop a Reason:

“Evidence: Most teachers at all levels remain occasional users of technology or nonusers. Those who are regular users seldom integrate the machines with core curriculum or instructional tasks.” Reason: Most teachers have apparently come through teacher-training programs that did not prepare them adequately to integrate the machines with core curriculum or instructional tasks. If Mr. Cuban’s comments are indicative of the education professorship, it becomes readily apparent why teachers are not prepared to use technology.

Before presenting oneself as an authority on the use of technology in the classroom, one should first visit a few classrooms where teachers who are more than “occasional users or nonusers” preside. One could observe individuals and groups of students composing newspapers, books, and Power Point presentations with artwork and text; groups compiling data on roadkill across the country and tracking whales far out to sea; students doing research beyond anything a classroom teacher could imagine as recently as 10 years ago; students developing an appreciation for current events by conversing via e-mail with students who reside near situations reported in the news—in this country and around the world.

All of this is on the elementary level. The sophistication of educational technology use grows with the age of the student, unless, of course, it is impeded by a poorly trained and thus insecure teacher.

Mr. Cuban’s Commentary continues with a series of “myths” and “facts.” Unfortunately, they are often confused. He writes: “The need for ‘technological literacy’ has become a myth that hides one unvarnished fact: To get a high-paying job in today’s economy one needs a college degree.” I would suggest that this is wrong on at least two points.

Forget about getting a high-paying job, the fact is, a student cannot even get through college without being technologically literate. Many colleges are doing most of their “paperwork” via computer networks. Students submit papers, receive revision suggestions and grades, and access their professors via e-mail. Distance learning is the genesis for “e-colleges.” Technology as simple as well-developed keyboarding skills saves college students countless hours; training in effectively using the myriad Internet resources saves countless more hours.

The second mistaken point is that high-paying jobs require college degrees. I have in my student body electronics technicians who will earn more, much more, graduating from high school than this year’s crop of new teachers. As these technicians need more training, their employers will provide it at no cost, while the technician is on the payroll. How many school districts will do the same for teachers? Only 25 percent to 30 percent of America’s jobs require a college degree. Many of our four-year-college graduates end up entering community colleges in an effort to develop the skills needed to get a decent job. If you want high pay without having to invest $100,000 in tuition and four years’ time, become a telephone- or electric-utility lineman or a crane operator (none of which requires a degree).

The essay lists a number of supposed “unadvertised truths.” As in the Reason/Evidence model, the relationship between the “truth” and the evidence offered as proof is tenuous at best.

Mr. Cuban caps off his presentation by advocating the redirection of technology monies to, among other things, smaller class sizes. Most of what I have read leads me to believe that smaller class sizes have, with the possible exception of the earliest grades, no impact on learning over any range of class sizes that are economically feasible. (Education Week recently reported research indicating that small schools, not small classes, have the potential to overcome the negative impact of socioeconomic factors on learning.)

Our schools are trying valiantly to cross the bridge into the 21st century. We can only accomplish this with a cadre of forward-thinking, well-trained teachers. Our teachers can only be forward-thinking and well-trained if our teacher-training institutions, and their professors, are prepared to think more in terms of the 21st century than the 19th.

Joseph H. Crowley


Chariho Career & Technical Center

Wood River Junction, R.I.

A version of this article appeared in the April 05, 2000 edition of Education Week as Letters