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.

What are we measuring?

I’m sure there are other professions with such extreme highs and lows, but I can only write about the one I know. Today was one of the lows. Don’t get me wrong. I love my job. I love teaching. I love my students. But this afternoon I spent three hours in front of a computer screen for “training” on the new test that I will have to administer in January. The WiDA ACCESS test is moving online this year and I fear for my students. We’ve only been to a computer lab twice this year — and I learned that some of my Level 1 and Level 2 students didn’t know that if they hit the RETURN key, their cursor would go down to the next line in a document. How could they know this if I didn’t teach it? Just because they’ve got smart phones constantly plugged into their ears doesn’t mean they know anything about creating an essay in Microsoft Word. They’ve become experts at texting under their desks while pretending to look in backpacks, but how will I teach them to navigate a page of instructions written in a language they are just acquiring? I’m frustrated because I know this move to online testing will cause some students to give up. We don’t have access to computers on a regular basis, so my students are not developing the computer literacy skills that will measure their academic success. My school and my district will be judged by how well they do. I’m all for moving into the digital age, but what are we really testing? When lack of access to basic computer instruction creates a huge gap, what can the test possibly accomplish?

Maybe I’m approaching this all wrong. Maybe so many students will fail to meet exit criteria that my district will be forced to hire dozens of new ESOL teachers. And they’ll make sure we have enough access to computers so that scores will improve. That would be awesome. I already feel better.