Thursday, January 13, 2005


One of the reasons school budgets are so much higher these days is that they are buying and maintaining technology on top of the books, pencils and paper of yesteryear. Technology is part of the $78 million bond issue on the Feb. 15 ballot in the Millard Public Schools, for example. Everybody understands this; you couldn’t have a school, especially a high school, today without ed tech.

But I don’t like the way it’s going. As predicted, the ed tech is sold to taxpayers as a great learning tool, but behind the scenes is being twisted into a harness, or maybe a straitjacket. Technology is the way public schools are going to be turned into government training academies and instruments of social engineering. Bye-bye, academic freedom for teachers and a broad-based, individual liberal-arts education for youngsters. Hello, Brave New World.

I may be jumping to conclusions here, but I base some of this on the politicians’ love affair for the Education Leaders Council, a conservative school-reform group that became a federal contractor in 2002. Its former Chief Executive Officer Lisa Graham Keegan, also former superintendent of public instruction in Arizona, has Nebraska relatives and is generally well-regarded for cutting bureaucracy. But she has left.
The ELC has recently obtained congressional earmarks totaling $23.3 million. Earmarks mean what they’re doing is some politician’s pet project.

According to Sunday’s Washington Times, ELC just got six earmarks for an additional $9.7 million to expand its federally funded "Following the Leaders" technology project. They are computerizing curricula for more than 200,000 students in 600 public schools in 12 states in partnership with Achievement Technologies Inc. of Newton, Mass., and other donors.

Nebraska is not one of the states, but those that are included – Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Ohio – are heavily into standards-based education, which is what we used to call “outcome-based education.” So naturally, they would be the “leaders” in this, because they have the “systems-based schools” in place already, and this is where the money is going to be made on the whole standards-based “reform” movement of the past 20 years or so.

This is why the politicians, educrats and technology companies were so hot to trot to get boilerplate standards in place in all 10 states, under Goals 2000 and now No Child Left Behind. This computerized curriculum system is standards-based and Web-based. It uses the computer as a teaching tool, but also as an “eye in the sky” over what teachers are doing, to lash them to the mast of government specs . . . oops, I mean standards . . . in their lesson plans.

The kids basically sit in computer labs with earphones on and stare at the screen while their answers are recorded on individualized databases. The teachers flit from kid to kid and “facilitate” learning. It has a definite “stimulus-response” feel, like rat training.

The software is preengineered to match the state’s learning standards and comes with curriculum and a wide range of assessments, from daily quizzes to district-wide pretests, to get the kids ready for the annual exams. This is why those states with “high-stakes assessments” . . . meaning school officials lose their jobs if the kids in their schools flub the dub on these big exams . . . are the ones where the educators are into this the most.

It’s “teaching to the test” on steroids.

Meanwhile, a lot of money is being made by the businesses which sell the software and help schools manage all this technology. And meanwhile, a database grows that shows how the kid does in academics as well as how the kid feels about stuff.

This is the Political Correctness component that scares me. This is why I was among those opposing social engineering in our standards and graduation outcomes that were put in place in Nebraska schools in the 1990s.

Now, using preprogrammed “activities” on the computer, with the kid’s answers recorded, it will be easy to see which kids are independent thinkers, which ones follow the gang, which ones are from cool left-wing homes and which ones are from fuddy-duddy conservative homes.

If the answers they give on these “affective” type questions aren’t what Big Brother is looking for, then the curriculum can be re-manipulated to remediate them and reassess them, until they . . . “get it.” Meaning . . . see things the State’s way.


See for yourself on the Education Leaders Council site (www.educationleaders.org) and the computerized curriculum sub-site (www.followingtheleaders.org)

I’d be the last person to say that technology has no place in schools. But I’m the first in line to say that we need to be very, very careful about what we’re buying, and what we’re getting our children and ourselves into.

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