Opinion
Education Opinion

No Relief for English Teachers

By Walt Gardner — April 25, 2012 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Every subject taught in high school has its unique downsides. But as a former English teacher for 28 years in the same high school, I’d argue that grading student compositions has to be the most arduous in terms of time and effort. That’s why I was elated to hear about computer scoring because its designers claim “virtually identical levels of accuracy” as essays graded by teachers.

But a closer look dampened my initial enthusiasm. According to Les Perelman, a director of writing at MIT, automated readers are easily gamed (“Facing a Robo-Grader? Just Keep Obfuscating Mellifluously,” The New York Times, Apr. 23). The reason is that substance does not matter to the computer - merely form. For example, essays that are lengthy, contain sentences with many words, use connectors, and are sprinkled with stilted vocabulary receive high scores. Moreover, facts are of no concern.

I don’t oppose the $2.2 billion spent on educational software in 2010 because I realize that technology has the potential to transform classrooms. But it’s important to bear in mind that breakthroughs in education are nothing new. Recognizing past disappointments, the Department of Education last year launched what it termed a unique public-private partnership called Digital Promise (“A Digital Promise to Our Nation’s Children,” The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 19, 2011). The bipartisan initiative is supposed to change teaching and learning by the use of new technologies, at the same time creating a business environment that rewards innovation and entrepreneurship.

It all sounds so promising. But there is little evidence that heavy reliance on technology improves learning. For example, the Kyrene School District in Chandler, Ariz. has spent approximately $33 million since 2005 in making all its classes technology-centric. Yet since then, scores in reading and math have stagnated, while statewide scores have risen in the same period (“In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores,” The New York Times, Sept. 3, 2011). Supporters claim that the scores do not reflect student engagement and other non-cognitive outcomes. That’s true, but it’s hard to justify such expenditures when teachers are being laid off.

The one group certain to benefit from the blind faith placed in technology are the companies involved. They track districts receiving federal funding and those passing tax assessments for technology. On the basis of the data, they make their sales pitches. But I seriously question whether anything will ever replace the professional judgment of teachers about what students have learned. For English teachers, in particular, that unfortunately still means long hours reading student compositions.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Building Teacher Capacity for Social-Emotional Learning
Set goals that support adult well-being and social-emotional learning: register today!


Content provided by Panorama
Jobs October 2021 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Tiny Wrists in Cuffs: How Police Use Force Against Children
An investigation finds children as young as 6 and a disproportionate amount of Black children have been handled forcibly by police officers.
15 min read
Jhaimarion, 10, reacts as he listens to his mother, Krystal Archie talking with an Associated Press reporter in Chicago on Sept. 23, 2021. Archie’s three children were present when police, on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore through their home searching for drug suspects. She’d never heard of the people they were hunting. Her oldest child, Savannah was 14 at the time; her youngest, Jhaimarion, was seven. They were ordered to get down on the floor.
Jhaimarion, 10, reacts as he listens to his mother, Krystal Archie talking with an Associated Press reporter in Chicago on Sept. 23, 2021. Archie’s three children were present when police, on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore through their home searching for drug suspects. She’d never heard of the people they were hunting. Her oldest child, Savannah was 14 at the time; her youngest, Jhaimarion, was seven. They were ordered to get down on the floor.
Nam Y. Huh/AP
Education Gunman in 2018 Parkland School Massacre Pleads Guilty
A jury will decide whether Nikolas Cruz will be executed for one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings.
3 min read
Annika Dworet and her husband, Mitch Dworet, wipe away tears as their son's name is read aloud during Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz's guilty plea on all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. The Dworet's son, Nicholas Dworet, 17, was killed in the massacre.
Annika Dworet and her husband, Mitch Dworet, wipe away tears as their son's name is read aloud during Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz's guilty plea on all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. The Dworet's son, Nicholas Dworet, 17, was killed in the massacre.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP
Education Briefly Stated: October 20, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Gunman in Parkland School Massacre to Plead Guilty
The gunman who killed 14 students and three staff members at a Florida high school will plead guilty to their murders, his attorneys said.
4 min read
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP