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Technology Training: Give Us Teachers For the 21st Century, Not the 19th

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.

Resist the 'Illusion of Technique,' Teachers

To the Editor:

Jerry Jesness' Commentary ("Read Two Sonnets and Call Me in the Morning," March 22, 2000.) takes a humorous tack on an important issue. As Mr. Jesness points out, the education profession tends to value technique (how to teach) as much more important than what is taught. Within the realm of technique, "psychologically based" approaches of various degrees of credibility (some contradictory to actual findings in cognitive psychology and neuroscience) proliferate. Meanwhile, what is taught (math, literature, history, science, languages) is denigrated as "content"—something which hardly needs much discussion among education "professionals."

Instead of learning to show students that academic subjects are powerful intellectual tools that help explain things and make them meaningful, teachers are too often being taught techniques (often based on spurious theories) into which they are to insert whatever "content" they wish. In a September 1994 article in Phi Delta Kappan, I call this "the illusion of technique."

The great positive aspect of this situation is the thousands of teachers who resist this illusion and continue to excite their students about the subjects they teach while ensuring that students acquire the factual knowledge, automaticity in processes like math computation and reading, and experience in thinking, writing, and speaking about these subjects that they need to master them.

Paul Regnier
Washington, D.C.

NASSP Staff Members Made Own Decisions

To the Editor:

An erroneous article in your March 22, 2000, issue does a disservice to a number of individuals who have contributed much to the National Association of Secondary School Principals over the past years, myself included ("Several Top Officials Leave NASSP in Wake of Restructuring," March 22, 2000).

In the article, there is the implication that John Lammel, Gwendolyn Cooke, Raymond Lemley, and I were "several top deputies" who were "forced out" as a result of an "overhaul" at the NASSP.

I not only was not "forced out" at the NASSP as a result of reorganization, I was offered the new "top" position in the association's program side, with an increased salary. While the decision was difficult, I accepted another offer that came at the same time as Executive Director Gerald N. Tirozzi's, the position of vice president of middle-grades research and development at the Galef Institute in Santa Monica, Calif. This decision was made for many reasons, personal and professional.

Your article is not factually correct, and could have negative professional consequences if colleagues draw erroneous conclusions from it. Nobody was forced out at the NASSP. The several "deputies" you refer to are, in fact, directors (with the exception of Mr. Lemley). My new employer is the Galef Institute, not the Galef "Foundation."

Top staff members have made their own decisions to leave the NASSP--no one made those decisions for them.

Susan E. Galletti
Director of Middle-Level Services
National Association of Secondary School Principals
Reston, Va.

Finding Advantages In Class-Size Math

To the Editor:

Coming across "How Cartoons and Calculators Resolved The Class-Size Debate," Dec. 8, 1999, by Gregory J. Cizek, I took out my own calculator. Mr. Cizek estimates that teachers work one-on-one with students during 15 minutes of every class period, giving the teacher an average of 36 seconds to work with each student in a class of 25 students.

He calculates that reducing class size from 25 students to 22 students would increase that figure to 40 seconds per student per class period, giving each child an average of four more seconds of teacher help per period. He considers this difference so negligible as to destroy the argument of those who claim that smaller classes raise academic achievement.

As a classroom teacher, I will accept those statistics, but not their characterization as negligible.

I must assume that the teacher of this hypothetical class walks, as I do, around the room while the children are working, checking their progress and being available to answer questions. It takes about four seconds to help a child identify a word he is stuck on, give him a hint on spelling, point out a misstep in a math problem, and so forth. Each student in the class of 22 students will thus get, on average, one more question answered per period than the student in the class of 25 students. If there are seven periods in a day, he will get seven more questions answered per day. During a 180-day school year, he will get 1,260 more of his questions answered.

In each case, answering a question for a student who is stumped may serve to unlock a whole process for him (as we who are trying to learn the computer well know). The advantage for the student in the smaller class is thus not negligible. On the contrary, those extra 28 seconds of individual help per day might easily make the difference between whether he or she succeeds or fails in school.

Helen Bardeen Andrejevic
New York, N.Y.

Vol. 19, Issue 30, Page 42

Published in Print: April 5, 2000, as Letters

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