To the Editor:
The article, “COVID-19 Fuels Big Enrollment Increases in Virtual Schools” (Sept. 3, 2020) raises red flags about virtual schools, but the larger trend of technologizing education is of equal concern.
The California Alliance of Researchers for Equity in Education has released a brief about the shift to online learning during the pandemic, and the research is clear—technologies for online learning can amplify inequities. Six large-scale studies show that fully online schools are far less effective than in-person schools. Even when students are attending schools in person, their learning is negatively impacted when spending significant time on computer-based technologies, as shown in large-scale studies of schools in the United States and abroad.
All of this is exacerbated by existing inequities. In spring 2020, students in poverty, of color, with disabilities, and/or who were English-language learners were far less likely than other students to regularly access online platforms. Other problems associated with extended screen time are increased risks related to physical and mental health, online bullying and sexual exploitation, and data and personal-privacy intrusion. Schools still have not received adequate resources and support to address such problems.
The California Alliance of Researchers for Equity in Education brief further shows that the shift to remote learning and the availability of federal stimulus funding provided the perfect storm for profiteering by technology corporations and providers. A recent analysis of the marketing claims about the effectiveness of various technology products showed a woeful lack of research basis for such claims. Yet companies grew their profits during the spring, and industry leaders saw their wealth soar.
Schools must do better with online education when it is still unsafe to reopen.
Such improvement starts with more research-based, democratic policies and funding priorities at the state and federal level.
School of Education
University of San Francisco
A version of this article appeared in the September 30, 2020 edition of Education Week as The Dangers of Technologizing School