U.S. graduates are last place in technology education

America’s high school graduates look like other nation’s dropouts. Check out this NPR story about how we are failing our students, especially in Technology.

At my school, a public high school in one of the wealthiest districts in the DC suburbs, my students have limited access to computers. Sure we have computers in the school – something like 10 different computer labs, and three or four carts of laptops. But with 1,700 students in one building, it’s often impossible to get access. When testing season starts on May 2, it will be out of the question. I’ve tried to incorporate technology into my instruction, but if I rely exclusively on smart phones, there are always kids who don’t have them. My students are all English Language Learners. This is a serious equity issue.

A few short years ago, computer skills were not part of any curriculum. Now they are critical to being successful. Whose job is it to teach students how to use email, use a drop-down menu, and save and name a file? How is it possible that students can graduate from high school not knowing how to do these things? Many teachers assume that students are acquiring these skills outside of the classroom. Just because they own smart phones doesn’t mean they know how to use them for academic purposes. When I take my ESOL 1 & 2 students to the lab, it is clear that I have to start from scratch: how to log in, how to press the Return/Enter key to go down a line, how to click and drag, use a scroll bar, create a document, how to navigate a website. Over the last few years most high-stakes tests have moved online. Students learn quickly, but with limited access to technology many are at a serious disadvantage.

We were supposed to get Chromebooks last year (inexpensive laptops from Google), but Governor Hogan’s budget cuts made that impossible. So only Social Studies departments got Chromebooks. The problem is that they’re only available to students enrolled in Social Studies classes. My ESOL 1 students (newcomers) do not take any Social Studies classes their first year, so they miss out. This problem may just be more pronounced at my school. Colleagues at a recent district meeting all said they could get computers for their students; it just took a little Personal Persistent Operating. (One district administrator suggested that I write a grant or put out a Go Fund Me request. Why should I have to beg to get essential materials to teach my students?) Maybe I need to be more pushy. I’m writing this blog instead.

I have so many online resources at my disposal, thanks to MCPS. I’m feeling the pressure to get my students before a screen as much as possible before testing season begins.

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Eva K. Sullivan teaches English Language Learners in Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland. She was an English Language Fellow with U.S. Department of State during the 2017-2018 school year, working with the Ministry of Education in Laos, Southeast Asia. She writes short stories, personal essays, and has completed a memoir about her experiences as an expat in West Africa in the 1990s.

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