As President Obama returns from a week abroad and an immersion into the issues of the world, he'll again take to defending the merits of his stimulus plan and his budget on the home-front. Underlying one of his biggest priorities, education reform, sits the kernel idea that investing in education will produce long-term economic gains for our country. So aside from simply wanting American children to be better educated, we must ensure that we can fill our seat at the global "big kids table" for decades to come.
While the pundits agree on many of the essential ingredients of education reform, few can agree on the path we should take and the role technology should play.
Technology in the classroom has been argued by some as being, at worst ineffective and, at best, distracting. I'd encourage those folks to talk to a child who used technology to learn to read, or to an adult who used it to learn English as a second language so they could get a job and support their family. Or, I'd encourage the skeptics to evaluate how some of the leading school districts in our country and in leading countries abroad use technology to advance the capabilities of their kids. Since technology has touched nearly all aspects of our lives, do we really believe that it can be anything other than a fundamental part of school reform? Can it really be the case that the "digital divide" begins in our schools?
Newsflash to education pundits.....America is far and away the leader in technology and its application. To say technology is not a critical aspect of advancing America to the head of the global class room, is to say we cannot use our greatest competitive capability to advance our greatest potential resource for the future...our children. That's like Sarah Palin denying that there is global warming. It doesn't even make sense to the people who say it.
Done "right'' its clear that technology is a good thing, and leaning on technology is an essential thing.
In a recent U.S. Department of Education study, LeapFrog's LeapTrack product was the only technology-based tool reviewed that demonstrated significant improvements in students' standardized reading test scores. Some would argue that a single winner doesn't bode well for the category. In the competitive world where I live, if something works you buy it, and you learn from it - you don't ignore it. With the administration's renewed commitment to creating a culture of learning for our children, we should celebrate any tool that has been proven to help them succeed. LeapTrack and Learning Path, its consumer-facing counterpart, are tools that work, and there are others available as well.
When you marry innovation and the boundary-free teaching potential of the Internet with the passion and commitment of teachers - students will win. Every time. Period. We're in the business of creating platform technologies that engage kids in the learning process, as well as Web-based solutions like Learning Path that help parents see how their child is progressing. These are powerful and effective tools that are helping kids advance and that make learning fun. We must continue to invest in innovative ways to get curriculum to these new "digital learners" who can absorb and process information in ways we haven't even discovered yet. We've got to use these tools as a basis for quickly collecting the data that describes how the kids, the teachers, and the schools are performing so that we can pinpoint how to improve performance. Without such tools we'll be using stone knives and bearskins when our country's allies and foes alike are using netbooks and broadband.
Our education system has to stay relevant and it has to get beyond its current national level of embarrassment and into a position of national pride. If we don't invest in the technology now that's required to do this, then we're assuring ourselves a place in the detention hall of the global schoolhouse. We don't want to be there and we don't need to be there if we get going now.