We all suffer from confirmation bias and earlier I wondered how the hardcore edutechnophiles would rationalize findings that the US fourth graders who used the most classroom tech performed the worst on standardized math exams?
My best attempt to crawl inside their heads:
Standardized exams are inaccurate assessments, moreover, they assess irrelevant skills.
Do I have that right?
Standardized Exams Are Lousy Assessments
I can't spend much time on this assertion. Exam validity varies from state to state, content area to content area, and I can't speak for the fourth grade assessment, but if California's Algebra and Geometry assessments are any indicator, the ground just fell out beneath you. They're extremely challenging and extremely fair assessments of prescribed coursework.
Standardized Exams Assess Irrelevant Skills
I can't cozy up to that first objection but I spend a lot of free time wondering if we've prescribed the wrong coursework, especially after the concluding paragraph from Roger Schank's recent post on math education at The Pulse:
I know this is a hopeless fight, but algebra really matters not at all in real life and the country will not fall behind in any way if we simply stop teaching it. That is not a fact, it is just a former math major’s, UT graduate’s, and Computer Science professor’s, point of view.
There is truth to this, I'm positive. There are studies to be conducted and evidence to be found concluding that, along with the current buffet line of alternative education options, we'll move to an a la carte mathematics curriculum, even while textbook manufacturers, math teachers, their unions, and parents fearful of the global boogeymen dig in their heels and pull.
Depending on the strength of your biases, that last one is an ugly rationalization, one which says the only tasks which matter are the ones which involve technology.
It's worse than, "When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail." It's, "When a hammer is your favorite tool, the tasks which don't involve nails are pointless."
There is a very rich, very nuanced conversation to be had here about the math students need (one which I am trying, and failing, to resolve internally with my foundering Feltron Project) and then there is a separate conversation, one which I will find very boring.
The Rationale Which Few Will Cop To
It will impress me a great deal if one of the usual tech proponents steps up to suggest that the implementation of technology in a majority of these classrooms simply sucked, that tech use in math classrooms simply isn't "there" yet. That'd be totally reasonable and somewhat courageous given the forum.
It's obvious to me that this discussion will go nowhere — idealistic tech coordinators and their traditional colleagues permanently gridlocked — if we don't first resolve the question, "Just what exactly are we supposed to teach here?" and then select some best practices, everyone agreeing to be cool in advance if those practices involve wikis or no. 2 pencils, 'cause we're sure to find both1.
But these emotional appeals to decency and child welfare, my criticisms of which have clogged this blog for the last time for at least a week, treat education's sore throat with a colonoscopy, demonizing a whole lot of decent educators without much result.