Saturday, May 26, 2012


This is Part Four of the series, trying for the “hat trick;” making some sense of the trajectory of a convoluted public K-12 alleged reform movement, its impact linking K-12 to digital technology evolution, all mediated by trends in both hardware and software innovation.

The above are intertwined via the current obsession (and corporate market/profit gaming) with naïve accountability and testing, imposing on sophisticated use of digital tools the lowest common denominator of classroom achievement – enough drill and student memorization, teaching to the test and just plain cheating, and test-taking coaching and gaming – to survive burgeoning standardized testing. 

When prospecting for this conclusion of the series, and seeking to envision our full spectrum of public K-12 systems a decade or more in the future, there was innate hope for some wedge of optimism; that what education historian Diane Ravitch characterized as “…living in a period of national insanity,” might abate.  As this conclusion unfolds, unless there is the quintessential positive “black swan,” no optimism survived.  Technology penetration and thematic K-12 by 2022 are, in turn, highly interdependent; if public K-12 can't crawl out of its learning crater, no technological advantage can root and prevail.

Americans have long been averse to bad news, playing the Pollyanna card, or simply hunkering down in sullen denial.   If that shoe fits, quit reading; because the sum of all forces at work, plus the nation’s capacity for overshoot, translates into nascent public K-12 education apocalypse. 

Positioning the Players & Factors

Metaphorically, what is being imposed on U.S. public K-12 is roughly the level-of-thinking equivalent of some of this nation’s recent international adventures.  There are literally no heroes or heroines, nor corporate personhood nobility, nor national leaders not regularly spewing hypocrisy or demagoguery, nor public school systems that aren’t frequently administratively self-righteous and resistant to change, nor many charters that haven’t demonstrated that markets and basic education are an invitation to corrupt actions, nor state departments of education that manifest some intellectualism and aren’t political shills, nor local school boards that aren’t frequently witless or worse.  The most nobility in sheer numbers still resides in the nation’s teachers, under attack by a legion of RINOs (in this case, “reformers in name only”).   Given a free ride are too many poorly selected or trained school administrators who have forgotten their role is service, and most of America’s parents, wallowing in school sports, trivia and paranoid hovering, but failing to carry the ball in accountability for the education of their own children.

Some of these factors are generational, not likely to be nudged in even a decade.  If there is any hope for greater sanity in public K-12 it will need to come from organizational participants who are close to the mechanisms that actually leverage school behavior.  In turn, digital technologies will persist and continue a logistic growth course whether K-12 recognizes them or not; the issue may be whether divergent trajectories between technology being created, versus what K-12 public education adopts, simply produce a chasm that American public education finally can’t traverse?

For the next decade the players/factors setting the scene, and the next decade’s trajectories for this current milieu of frequently despotic players are projected below.

Will K-12 Be Privatized?

A basic truth about the K-12 core rather than fringes the media report came out of the mouth of a major contributor to the present testing insanity, Bill Gates.  In an interview, Mr. Gates acknowledged reality; that charters and vouchers would probably not dominate U.S. K-12.  Worth a kudo, because the media focus on the exceptional and outliers.  Facts:  the USDOE projects public K-12 to still account for 89 percent of all K-12 students by 2019, and the most likely forecast is that by 2022 that number will still be in the mid-80 percent range.   Good news?

Not so much.  Charters are increasingly proving to be invitations for poor academic performance and the opportunity to raid public tax dollars for personal or corporate gain.  The heart of public K-12 – in spite of schools at the margin that will be creative and promote higher order thinking skills – will still project soft strategies and mediocrity, self-righteousness and naïveté.  Public K-12, and its unions, over decades brought down its own house by dogmatic commitment to deduced methods rather than knowledge creation, and building castles with endless taxpayer levies.  Even individually saintly teachers in those environments become cynical and compliant to overreaching or simply overwhelmed administration, or as currently demonstrated simply leave the profession.  Expect the rate of defections to increase in the face of more invasive testing and use of VAM appraisals.  

Add to this picture, the continued refusal of states to put some rigor into the requirements to serve on local school boards, or create better systems of oversight, and the 2022 projection is that the same local board oversight of the past decades will persist for the next, representing the same incapacities for critical thought and creative direction.


Mr. Obama or Mr. Romney; it makes zero difference.  This issue is central to the degradation of our current public K-12 education system.  Both players, even from apparently divergent philosophical positions, are pushing the same mechanical and punitive approaches to alleged reform, even using the same words, presaging four more years of the utter stupidity of present stilted testing.  Will 2016 change that?  The more likely 2016 presidential candidates, both ends of the political spectrum, have already indicated by action a propensity to continue the farce.  For 2020 and beyond, the path is murky, but after 12 years and two presidents’ dysfunctional forays into K-12 education, and a tracked Duncan’s USDOE tenure, any intelligence left in the USDOE will have shipped off to more lucid and honest assignments.

The “Greed Is Good” Cabal

A cabal of today’s corporations, lacking vestiges of social responsibility – and dare we say it, in the absence of any accountability – won’t go away.  The publishing companies that now have a potential stranglehold on American K-12 education arrived there by decades of lobbying mediocre textbooks, by lobbying to take over the development of standardized tests and their scoring, and now are pushing into accreditation of teachers.  Is a realistic expectation that any ethics driven Congress will cut this corporate enclave off at the pass?  By 2022 expect this invasive species to be even more fully entrenched in Congressional pockets and in state education administrations.  The year 2022 may not see “public K-12” become “Pearson K-12,” but the projection may be a close call.

The Acronym Curses

ALEC, American Legislative Exchange Council, has for nearly 40 years, and until recently largely under the radar, been creating ultra-conservative legislation for our states, running that language into state laws by state legislators who can’t master writing their own legislation.  The latest acronym to surface, NCTQ, stands for the National Council on Teacher Quality.  That sounds attractive; who can argue with teacher quality?  Its gambits are making schools of education, by intimidation if necessary, “data driven,” and installing the teacher education that will serve to support standardized test performance, or as NCTQ puts it, turn out teachers who will “…prepare students for assessment responsibilities.”  Huh, say again? Its leadership is layered with testing advocates and residue from the Gates’ funding adventures.  Lastly, CCSSI, or the Common Core State Standards Initiative – representing conservative states, right-wing interests, and equivalent personnel and administration – is primarily warmed over educational methods mantra reviewed by the “who’s not” in contemporary education, not the robust knowledge common standards U.S. K-12 desperately needs for competitive parity with the rest of the world.  The grasp on K-12 by the composite of these special interest efforts will by 2022 be massive and further depress rational K-12 HOTS learning.


TFA, Teach for America, with silent dismissal of schools of education, is now funded generously by both the USDOE and Gates, and extracts a TFA fee for every teacher placed for every year they remain in place.  Simultaneously, even under the most aggressive assumptions, TFA will barely dent the need for K-12 teachers at the present rate of defections from the profession even while it is still a profession.  TFA in principle is a valid expression of a half-century challenge, to educate K-12 teachers to possess subject matter excellence versus the methods garbage and touchy-feely dogma so long dispensed by U.S. schools of education.   It also appears barely disguised self-promotion of Wendy Kopp and teacher placements defined by opportunities for photo ops and political grandstanding versus serving the mass of public K-12 allegedly at risk.  The politically incorrect message of TFA is, however, never uttered; if a TFA teacher only needs five weeks of classroom training, than why are we still funding and suffering the ineptitude of collegiate schools of education, and offering four-year and masters’ degrees in education?

Speaking of Those Schools of Education

Before Diane Ravitch had an epiphany, and became a critic of present K-12 standardized testing, she was on the board of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a self-identified conservative, and "...did not like teacher training institutions. We thought they were too touchy-feely, too concerned about self-esteem and social justice and not concerned with basic skills and academics." What has changed?  As history records, Fordham per Ravitch established the NCTQ " a new entity to promote alternative certification and to break the power of the hated ed schools."  The history gives new meaning to the old adage, be careful what you wish for, you might get it.  The issue is that no power was ultimately challenged, no reforms occurred, and the education school bastion simply pulled its head into the higher education shell and kept on churning out the same marginally prepared teachers turned out for a half century or more.  

Change them?  Catch 22; schools of education, unless you lift them out of present oversight, are subject to the willingness of our institutions of higher education to change their acquisitive values and strategies, and even with nascent rumblings of applying standardized testing to their products, it will take far more than a decade to experience any real higher education reform.  Parenthetically, if schools of education could find the handle on their own reform, a TFA and its aggrandizement would blow away, and the real middle majority of overall K-12 public education would benefit.  The chances of the latter happening by 2022, to go out on a limb, but not very far, you have better odds in Las Vegas.

The Shadow Meltdown

Except for the ignorance and distorted values being manifested by the funding and power positions associated with the testing and accountability tableaus, there would be tactical value in forcing public K-12 to work on basic skills even with the bogus testing being fashioned and imposed.  Over decades nothing else appears to have captured the attention of public K-12 school administrators and related bureaucracy.  What is the downside?

The answer, massive:  Public K-12 was poorly educating prior to NCLB because of the core beliefs installed in most public school educators by their training.  So far so good; testing demands are sharply focusing attention on the classroom and the highly specific actions of their teachers.  To the extent that some of the standardized test contents serve as a platform for subsequent learning there is merit.  The major issue, virtually all of the accomplishment of the testing focus serves LOTS (low order thinking skills), little if any supports HOTS (high order thinking skills), and may even be both major distraction and a functional barrier to the latter learning needs.  It is unarguably an instruction motivational barrier.

Projecting a decade of increasingly narrow focus on naïve methods and fragments of learning massively and punitively enforced, finally churning out in 2022 a full school generation of resources who believe professional function equals dismissible short term memory of miscellaneous facts and knowing how to game a multiple choice test, what will those resources mean in a marketplace being driven by advancing technology and a need for both critical thought and creativity.  Think unemployable at a new and tragic level as the U.S. sinks deeper into a structural unemployment crater.

Occasionally there is, an accident of chance, the timely discovery of written thoughts that so crystallize an argument that for the at least curious some truth seems to have landed; thus was the case with stumbling upon two essays and the guide who pointed the way.  The topic is the very heartbeat of alleged K-12 reform, math education.  The guide, a credible resource: Mathematician Keith Devlin is the Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Language and Information at Stanford University and The Math Guy on NPR's Weekend Edition.  The two essays are “Lockhart’s Lament,” and Matthew Brenner’s “The Four Pillars Upon Which the Failure of Math Education Rests.” 

Both with precision relate why the present testing debacle, that projecting the next decade will not be slowed or stopped, is false and destructive of K-12 learning, and by analogy likely brands the approach for every other discipline of consequence.  Both items are linked, Lockhart here, and Brenner here.  The shameful irony is that Brenner’s piece was written based on his experience as a computer scientist, teaching 9th grade algebra, in a school called Sidwell Friends in Washington, DC; some may recognize the school as the educational home base of Mr. Obama’s children.

Data, Data Everywhere, But Not a Drop That Informs

This last issue, short of the closing thoughts on the trajectory of digital technologies and related hardware, is likely already beyond future resolution.  Even more basic than math, the ignorant and careless use of “data” by our RINOs is like the sound of fingernails on that old-time blackboard.  Those using the term appear clueless what data are when subjected to disaggregation and inspection for roots.  All data are not created equal, yet the term is now blithely tossed out as a universal mantra, and the basis for teaching teachers as well as subjecting them to review or even terminating them. 

Most of those shouting “more data” and “evidence-based instruction" could likely not get past a bone-head standardized (to be especially irreverent) test of how digital information is derived, validly and reliably, from diverse information that is neither cardinal, ordinal nor interval in its genesis.  Nor has there been “evidence-based” input suggesting that the same casts of characters understand how science creates evidence and explanation, and why those methods assume standards of professional ethical conduct.  There also appears to be general cluelessness about the morphology of longitudinal measurement of complex phenomena, making up the alleged reasoning behind VAM.  Will those pressing present K-12 reform be motivated to discover within a decade enough theory of measurement and explanation, or credit those who have that competency, to do more than destruct?  You would be better off as a probability betting your life savings on Facebook stock, or that Jamie Dimon is a humble and honest banker.

One data event not projected by 2022 may be the most costly education oversight in America's history, the oversight or refusal to advocate and fund the necessary research and development to measure the achievement of HOTS in our schools.  Arguably now enabled by digital technology development and greater neural biological understanding, such testing might use simulation, and/or gaming, and/or AI. That development, properly targeting what real K-12 summative assessment should measure, might justify the use of LOTS standardized testing for some K-12 applications, but targeting formative assessment and use as a tool for tactically creating targeted learning effects and diagnosis.  

This failure underscores the low level of understanding of education by those currently possessing the resources and positions of power to force alleged K-12 reform; irresponsible ignorance applied to fashioning the institutional infrastructure that is supposed to assuage ignorance.  The ultimate irony for one wing of alleged reform – the liberal search for perfect education equality – is allowing American K-12 education to be positioned as a marketable good rather than viewed as indispensible intellectual commons of an advanced society, and peddled for political fantasies and corporate profit.


In perspective, this is far and away the easiest venue to project for the next decade, the reason being that most of the research with a potential of dramatic change in technology applicable to K-12 is roughly that decade away from replicable production readiness and commercialization.  Simultaneously, though manufacturing capabilities can be ramped up quickly because of digitally controlled assembly, and even printing products is a reality, scaling development x manufacturing x organization x distribution still takes years to reach broad market capacities.  The prospects for that nascent capacity are, however, awesome; large increases in integrated circuit capacities, wireless Internet protocols that are more numerous and exotic than viewed in consumer media with the capacity to greatly increase and equalize bandwidth delivery, and the marriage of biology and digital technology that has a direct bearing on understanding, even mediating learning.

For K-12 education, the largest change enablers to emerge in the next decade, were they to be sought or even accepted, are finally universally massive bandwidth, and logic and software based, sophisticated and high order programming of simulation modeling, and the emergence of robust AI or artificial intelligence.  Both have the potential of moving the whole later childhood and secondary education platform from the traditional classroom to a mix of self-instruction and high order professionally managed directed instruction by digital means.  A projection is that in the next decade this long overdue process will take off, in spite of aggressive resistance from public K-12 traditionalists willing to circle the wagons to protect obsolete jobs rather than put learning first.  The opening may be lapse of focus on defense because of the need to operate on the dual front of technology encroachment, and fighting the reform creed to put public K-12 out of existence.  One hand clapping for the reform gang.

The last projection, capping the series, how will technology nest into the classroom by 2022?  I suspect that roughly 10-15 percent of America’s better public K-12 classrooms will be credible and technologically capable by then, mostly consisting of already successful schools with upscale audiences, and that can afford to confine the rote work of test mastery to increasingly shorter and intense drill, then ignore the demagoguery of reformers and their own states’ delusions.  They in a decade will likely evolve that symbiosis of teaching rubrics and digital expression that can leverage real HOTS learning.

That may be the ultimate irony of the current Obama administration’s highly ideological and extreme liberal movement to magically equate K-12 for all – the result will further widen the gap in achieved and actionable learning between the metaphorical one percent and the 99 percent.  In our ranging and still rural heartland, populated by bubbles of retro beliefs, public systems like those in this and related areas will be in 2022 still producing the same corps of undereducated and indoctrinated kids they currently churn out, with smug and dogmatic self-righteousness wrapped around missing comprehension of contemporary learning issues.

Why Optimism Fades

From many of the same folks who brought us Iraq, how long will it take for essentially the same naïveté to destroy still plausible (with change) public education in the U.S.? What will universal education for America’s children look like in 2022?  Under the present reform trajectory, how many more of 2022’s college inductees will require major remedial learning to compete in a HOTS setting, or does a truly sick national education leadership just dumb-down higher education? What would a K-12 system designed by Bill Gates or Pearson look like?  What does a teacher trained from day one to teach to the tests do for creative expression and self-esteem?

What would a state's education system produce by 2022 with massive LOTS testing, dishonestly hyped as evoking genuine learning to constituents who either can't discriminate or who are in denial of the politically inspired venality?  In today's Ohio, it is not a rhetorical question.  Nor can technology even get a legitimate integrated foothold in most of its K-12 schools.

What would U.S. K-12 education look like if 85 percent of its former public schools were confiscated by state governments and gifted to charters?  How long would it take, and how would the U.S. rebuild a public K-12 education system if privatization failed the nation educationally, or if charter managements further inflated our prison populations?  What would America’s version of knowledge look like if it was fully developed by the same retro gang behind the CCSSI? How long, with present reform intellectualism and perfidy, would it take for the U.S. to devolve into a second-class society; shush, no “we are already” are allowed.

Clearly, the above were left out of the future scenarios, not by lack of beliefs, but by the divisive and chaotic mess that’s been created for K-12, hopelessly entangled with America’s political extremism, and the resultant and depressing incapacity to logically project paths of events that might ameliorate the zoo created.

Some Conclusions

Educational resources in the U.S. – a Diane Ravitch, Florida’s Marion Brady, The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss (“The Answer Sheet”) and her regular and highly accomplished contributors, other hundreds of educated and intellectually competent resources who research and study learning, knowledge creation and its preservation, and those in our professional STEM fields who let science rather than ideology or political themes guide their efforts – have now spoken out about the travesty of present RINO.  Most of America’s media have been too politically correct or clueless to speak truth about present initiatives; in turn, too many of America’s parents, educated mostly in the same public systems that need to intellectually join this century, appear incapable of reading and synthesizing for effect even if facts were promulgated.  As the cadence of professional critique quickens and even becomes more direct, the counterpoint is that our most informed critics wind up still mostly preaching to the choir.

The final projection for 2022, it will take a black swan or some other epiphany to push the present reform hordes onto a different course, an index of a nation that has lost, if not Diane Ravitch’s invocation about its sanity, at least a measure of once present wisdom of the crowd and sensible national leadership.


This is the end of the SQUINTS series on K-12, spanning 50 posts.  After a brief respite, SQUINTS will return to an original mission, the critique of our U.S. system of higher education, where the writer spent a quarter century.  After exiting the higher education game, a related university vice-president once remarked in referencing this writer, sotte voce to his breakfast companion, “watch out for him, he’s been inside, and is dangerous.”  That “dangerous” is highly unlikely, at the time a bit of head shed paranoia, but that inside view of higher education may be worth a few interesting posts.  The world science journal Nature, in a second week of unexpected, but on-time delivery, posted a short story for the year 20xx, suggesting that higher education has a whole raft of nuances, as well as mainframe issues worth exploration.  This one may not be as far out as one might first deduce, based on the daily revelations about genetic research and findings.  The story certainly puts a new spin on strategic planning.

My thanks to all who have visited SQUINTS and read these posts, and whether there was agreement with any positions taken or not.  A proposition is that only by such straightforward presentations of views – never the necessarily right or full answer to any of the issues, nor represented as such – will subsequent awareness, defensible knowledge, and potential solutions, strategies and tactics finally emerge for American K-12 education.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Part Two of this series mechanically depicted the factors that might need to be assessed to match digital technologies – hardware and software – to K-12 classroom needs.  Deductively the variables itemized and subsets of those variables all play rolls in what technologies fit which learning situations. 

At the same time common sense and experience tell us that many of those combinations are self-evident, or would not generate even a just noticeable difference in mediating classroom performance, or changing a test score.  Part Three explores the proposition that fitting technology into K-12 is both method and art, with hard stuff but importantly mostly dependent on soft stuff.

Hard Versus Soft

For some readers the failure to launch into a Consumer Reports-style assessment of named/branded digital devices may be disconcerting.  In reality, that hardware while a major dollar commitment, is the least important factor in K-12 technology evolution, most easily substitutable, and most vulnerable to obsolescence.  The logic of higher order learning-linked methodology, then its expression in software drives the devices, in turn, becoming entwined with classroom teaching/learning reasoning and practice; that is the disruptive K-12 change needed.  

The quixotic and dynamic nature of hardware evolution is nicely illustrated by the “Google glass” project, a hands-free eyeglass frame device that conceptually could replace smart phone, camera, conventional Internet hardware, word processor, video conferencing, potentially even become a full operating computer; with more transistors put on a chip of silicon, or futuristically on a coated sheet of (carbon) graphene one atom thick, with power supplied by solar cell technology woven into your shirt or blouse.

Contemporary hardware is sexy, but the half-life of new digital devices is now measured in fractions of a year.  With basic research developments of materials now promising to extend Moore’s Law (that the number of transistors that can be put on an integrated circuit doubles every 18 months to two years), the educational constraints of absorbing digital technology are not hardware, but the capacity for K-12 to use its own intellect and creativity to envision applications for learning that move beyond last century's phenotypes.
Two massive examples underscore a first paradox, and disconnect between what digital technology can do or enable, and has in consumer markets, yet eludes education:  This week's Facebook IPO produced a $105B valuation, secured for technologically fairly simplistic social networking, a version of which could easily support models of group learning if so structured; and a nearly $70B gaming market is served by simulation and graphics logic and programming that could offer stunning learning effects in K-12 if so directed. Both technologies, because they perceptually appear as entertainment frequently provoke contempt from educators, rather than being recognized as simply different flavors of serious digitally enabled modeling.  Simulation modeling, with us for over a half century, and AI (highly sophisticated and complex artificial intelligence modeling, just beginning to firm up as usable technology) may be K-12 education's best chances to evolve better learning protocols and better HOTS assessment testing. 

Two More Vexing Paradoxes

The second paradox that haunts the technology integration issue for public K-12 explains some of the cynicism about using more formal methods versus gut feel to elect technology usage.  As noted above, some technology fits are intuitively obvious or simply emerge seemingly autonomically because of prior learning or teaching experience, while others are not perceived or recognized, short-circuiting creativity.  The greater the logic and software content of a digital education tool, the greater the greater the risk of missing a non-traditional application.  Ignoring common sense – not unheard of in present public K-12 reform trajectories – by pro forma paper assessments, inviting analysis paralysis, creates bureaucratic detritus on top of bureaucracy; the opposite, ignoring the search for more formal or creative awareness of where technology can augment learning imposes opportunity costs.  How do you differentiate the options and choose a vector?

There is a third paradox – usually billed “the technology paradox” – that while applied to technology adoption generally, also fits K-12.  Basically, the assertion is that technology adoption should increase productivity, but initially does not, the situation in the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s.  However, in the 1990s there was evidence of substantial improvement in productivity attributable to that same technology.  Explanations are dual:  First, when technology was first introduced its use was primarily to automate existing processes whether they were otherwise effective or not, so some performance improved and some failed faster, and at the cost of acquiring and implementing the technology; and second, when improvements finally occurred they were attributable to structural revision of those processes to integrate technologies, to organizational learning, and to the ubiquitous learning curve that describes how complex systems absorb change and adapt but systemically and over time.  Both effects are hovering over current K-12 technology adoption.

The materiality of the above is that there is no magic bullet for K-12 technology use, nor will the vastly overused Bloom’s taxonomy point to a simple set of heuristics or model for technology matching to any given learning setting.  Seems obvious as well; however, daily the media feature technology naysayers claiming that public K-12 needs to return to the red brick schoolhouse, and that the technology device of the day has failed to produce greater learning.  Keep the “technology paradox” in your kit of tools to assess with greater perspective what is seen and read.

A Paradigm for Thinking About Technology x Learning

The first piece of the puzzle is getting beyond Bloom's taxonomy, that has seemingly dominated K-12 learning stage thinking.  One approach has been labeled HOTS, or higher order thinking skills.  There are multiple structures for present thinking on HOTS, and one of the better depictions was authored at Florida State University.  That approach posits five HOTS dimensions: Metacognition; critical and creative thinking; thinking processes; core thinking skills; and relationship of content area knowledge to thinking.  Each dimension has been exploded into related concepts, then into related elements.

Total detail for this depiction is less important than the recognition that the system of classification points you toward action learning steps, none mysteries, that are links to how any hardware and software delivery might fit, and how it might be differentially effective versus present practice.  (For reference this document [a], and a complementary display [b], are linked for online access in the appendix to this post.)

Step two follows from the ending arguments in Part Two of this series. Stripped to essentials, the matching issue is:  Being able to articulate for the classroom learning situation (e.g., some HOTS organization of processes) what a hardware/software solution can deliver, expressed in cognitive contribution, communications, experiential, or sensory terms, versus, in those same terms, what any specific hardware/software asset needs to deliver in the content areas of relevance to meet stated learning goals.  Note that there is no elaborate model required; the solution can be straightforward human assessment when the dual knowledge implied is available in one resource, but becomes more formal and organizationally driven when group decision making is dictated by specialized knowledge and multiple decision-makers, and especially in most K-12 system environments where decisive decision processes tend to be rare.

If the adoption assessment process ended there it would still mean sifting through options based mostly on inferred learning effects, but a solution is also subject to seat time positioning and factors beyond the direct classroom application.  Importantly, school, classroom, and student environments, special education demands, and all of the technology support factors are part of the equation, along with the complication that some hardware and/or software capabilities will be highly dedicated to narrow learning delivery, while some will be applicable across virtually all classrooms and operations.

Hardware adopted is also subject to cost and funding issues; life expectancy, downtime risk, maintenance requirements, upstream support investment required, and obsolescence, all becoming administrative factors.

Step two segues into another level of analysis, step three, further criteria used to assess the hardware.  For example, a general laptop seems benign enough; but the fit to classroom need may require assessment of speed, memory, graphics, durability, visual quality, aural capability, battery life, and other dimensions, along with the other administrative impacts of the prior paragraph.  Demonstrating the generic versus dedicated use issue, a laptop may serve multiple needs, versus a pad, smart phone, or similar device that is capable of communications delivery but would necessitate another device be available for scaled up calculation chores.

Step four gets into the nitty-gritty of determining both the absolute and relative capacities of various devices married to specific software to, essentially, create a better teaching performance with the technology than without it.  That means getting behind the curtain to assess the wizard.  Some teachers, with highly developed skills and great experience may find some to many technologies even a detriment to learning in their classrooms; one size does not fit all in spite of that fantasy in the current bogus public K-12 reform movement.

Knowing What We Know, and Don’t Know?

A simple but powerful metacognitive tool is branded the “knowledge paradigm,” made infamous by our former U.S. secretary of defense’s invocation of “unknown unknowns.”  But parsed out, its message is elegant, particularly the cell categorized “don't know what we don’t know,” the bane of good decision-making.

From the above, specifying the hardware/software mix to be set into a classroom is neither at times as much a mystery as frequently envisioned, nor a process that at our present levels of education research the stuff of easy digitization and a pat solution.  We can also observe that there is little hard research about the efficacy of various technologies in delivering better learning performance in the classroom, versus delivery by a properly trained, equipped, supported, and motivated human teacher/coach.  Lastly, we also know deductively that there are going to be few fully generic or vanilla solutions to technology adoption; rather the choices of technology augmentation are going to be specific to the individual classroom, and most of its functions, to be absorbed and productive.

Can heuristics, or checklists, or rubrics be specified that can guide one who has to select and implement technology in K-12?  Certainly, and there are the bits and pieces of that knowledge in the education literature, and especially in the explosion of now online teacher-authored treatises on the question.  Is there an organized database of research-based findings on how technology types create better learning results?  Not so much, for the reason that neither the USDOE, nor most of our schools of education, nor our K-12 schools, nor most of the vendors profiting from such adoptions have made those investments.

So a fourth paradox surfaces.  The online world is now populated by an amazing array of professional but anecdotal examples of technology applications in the K-12 classroom, but few if any of those observations – that may be valid and even transferrable – have been systematically assembled, even as meta-research to determine if technology gains can be generalized.  A proposition is that the history of bureaucratic and risk averse public K-12 education bears some responsibility for the status.

Public K-12 has long been driven, from Ausubel through Werthheimer, and all between, by deductive approaches to learning because it was (mistakenly) assumed it could never be empirically described or explained.  There is little tradition of regularly empirically testing the input variables to learning against student HOTS demonstration, or longitudinal downstream use of that learning, or perhaps in future true neural-biological effects.  Hence, it is probably explicable why the rallying cry for those advocating present standardized testing is a shrill, if naive, “give us accountability.”

It is ironic, when in the last few days science has demonstrated that we have the capability to physically do work by simply thinking it into action, that the U.S. K-12 public education establishment is still too frequently and dogmatically functioning based on science of the last century.

Technology Applications

The premise of this post was originally that an example or two of technology applications in the classroom would be its conclusion, to balance its conceptual approach to technology assessment against what is happening metaphorically in "K-12 on the street.”  The reach and wealth of actual albeit ad hoc classroom applications recovered in searches changed the plan.  Below are annotated links to the first several dozen citations located – encompassing hundreds of classroom examples – of how technology is penetrating some K-12 schools.  Far better than trying to paraphrase what teachers are reporting, those links are below.  Self-study beggars what this post could offer in the form of attitude-, opinion-, or belief- changing assessments.

A sample…

Does “World of Warcraft” cause you to cringe and bemoan a generation that has drifted to the edges of fantasy?  Another perspective, Simulation, Social Networking, and Gaming, from resources who do real science, MIT, and parenthetically, may spawn the next IPO and billionaire.

Visit eight years of examples of specific technology applications in a spectrum of classrooms from READING rockets.

From the UK, and places of some renown – Oxford and SRI International – some dynamic technology applications in the classroom.

For an unabashedly proactive endorsement of classroom technology, visit this personal statement from Mashable Tech.

From the Journal, teacher talk about BYOD; for the technology impaired, “bring your own device.”

Also from the Journal, a provocative dialogue about moving the teacher from the front of the room to its center and the learning action.

From Education World, archives covering the spectrum of digital issues and applications.

Three tips on integrating technology into the classroom, from US NEWS & WORLD REPORT.

From Edudemic, a pictorial trip down the classroom technology memory lane.

An understated but prescient discussion of technology in the classroom, circa 1999, by a Vanderbilt-educated PhD educator and researcher, sponsored by the International Reading Association, Inc.

How one school system has used the “wiki” as an educational tool.  (Parenthetically, Edunationredux is essentially a wiki site, that took in its initiation almost a whole 45 minutes and zero coin to create.)

The “Technology Integration Matrix,” produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology, College of Education, University of South Florida.  Follow the arrows for a documented tour of integration organization and guidelines.

From Educause Quarterly, a 2004 narrative about the merits and issues of K-12 classroom technology.  Eight years ago, testimony to public K-12’s sense of urgency and creativity?

Thoughts on technology use for early childhood education from Scholastic/Teachers.

A slide show course on technology in K-12, from Slideshare.

Large collection of specific hardware/software applications from one school district’s technology specialists, underscoring the support issue mentioned earlier.

From EmergingEdTech, although the issue may have about the same ambience as fingernails on a traditional blackboard, how to use Twitter in the classroom.

Best practices of technology integration in Michigan schools, sponsored by the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators.

From Education Week/Teacher, overview of classroom technology issues.

A wiki on good examples of classroom technology use, by a private sector source of technology integration consulting, PBWORKS., Secondary Education, on integrating technology into the classroom.

A wiki, Literacy Pathways, describing examples of classroom technology adoption.

Also from Literacy Pathways, a comprehensive report on technology in K-12 from The New Media Consortium, funded by Microsoft.

From educator training at Haverford and Bryn Mawr, a well documented example of using technology to support secondary biology classroom education.

From teAchnology, an online teacher resource, tutorials on use of technology in the classroom.

An archive from USDOE, Education Reform Studies, on evaluating technology use in the classroom.  "Archive," go figure.

From the University of Michigan, Center for Research on Teaching and Learning, review of “Teaching Strategies:  Technology in the Classroom.”

From a blog, THE THINKING STICK, dialogue on virtues of classroom technology.  (Note:  As in the case of many online treatments of a topic, the most revealing inputs are the comments by readers.)

Lastly, with tongue-in-cheek, the premier world science journal, Nature, reserves its last text page of every issue for a fictional short story based on science, usually sporting some unconventional humor.  Nature’s May 10, 2012 issue featured a story blending the classroom and technology, very short on political correctness, and evocative of the ambivalence of "digitizing" the classroom.  Enjoy.

The above represents only a small fraction of the commentary about classroom technology available online.  That integration of those experiences in our actual classrooms is incomplete, and seemingly addressed by few education research and/or codification dollars; for example, compared to the funding being poured into faux to pedestrian standardized testing and slavishly accepted by public K-12.  That is not exactly ringing endorsement of public education leadership, or state-level oversight, or of the USDOE.
Indeed, it poses a disturbing question:  A decade from 2012, which effort – expanding low-level repetitive standardized testing to every grade level and even preK as "accountability," mechanizing teaching validation with VAM, commercializing it with TFA, and privatizing schools, or, installing the best learning technologies along with more sophisticated assessment (and testing) of HOTS in public K-12 schools – is more likely to contribute to systemically viable and stable K-12 infrastructure, knowledge dissemination, and a thinking population?

Postscript:  Part Four

Part four, and the last in the series, will attempt a risky polemic venture, to project or at least speculate how technology could modify U.S. K-12 education over the next couple of decades.  One common point of view is that we cannot know the future, so it is foolish to speculate.  Another, however, is that while the future is subject to “black swans,” much of our future is written under the surface in past trajectories, and providentially in the case of technology, in paid-in extant research that once in motion eventually surfaces as potential innovation.  Whether public K-12 can survive the current epoch attacks of corporately-, politically-, and contempt-driven faux public K-12 reform, to benefit from technology bubbling to the surface, may be a race; between public K-12's adoption of tradition-breaching entrepreneurship and technology advocacy, and the hazards of “black swan theory.”

Reference Appendix:

Monday, May 14, 2012



After last week’s launch of “K-12 & Technology” a process of critique and self-evaluation was executed, because the topic is complex, and because the trail of insights from prior work ends quickly.  The question posed was, is all of this detail and complication really necessary?  Can’t we simply by common sense and a little trial and error observe which hardware, and what applications work in the classroom? 

A fair question but the answer isn’t simple:  One answer is that the rate of development of technologies, devices, and software is now so great that some mechanism or screening logic is demanded to sort capabilities against needs.   A second answer is public education paranoia about taking any risk that might impact presently demanded standardized test scores, shooting down most creative and ad hoc experimental approaches, though the concept has a history in market-based innovation.

Part Two, while starting down the trail of how to match technology and needs also begins with an overview of how technology is conceived to assist public K-12 performance.

Part Two

The Technology Mission

In the course of researching this installment, two existing sources popped out.  The first is new and notable, and frames this whole series; how dependent on technology should K-12 change be?  The second is notable but not new, just widely overlooked in the technology debates.

All linked, the first was a press report of two Washington, DC schools at opposite ends of the technological spectrum, one super-technological, one that might be billed, for Luddites-only. Illustrating the challenge of prescribing technology for K-12, both schools are outputting students who score in the 600 range on SATs, strongly suggesting that technology per se is not necessarily the determinant of solid learning.  But simultaneously, the two systems are placing material bets on the state of the world, and its trajectories a decade or two into the future.  Will the world retreat to the 20th century, or will the 21st continue its seemingly inexorable path to higher order technology requiring that literacy to cope?

The second source is a primer on technology in K-12, and should have been required reading for every American K-12 educator then and now: The “National Education Technology Plan 2010,” authored by the Office of Education Technology, of the U.S. Department of Education.  Creative and eloquent, the Plan details how technology might be effectively employed to advance American K-12 education.  That document is the de facto platform for the point of this series, so an unusual recommendation; take a time-out and read that document.  Paraphrasing its contents simply wastes words and would suffer by comparison, but there is one paragraph pointedly addressing the issues of Part Two:

"What education can learn from the experience of business is that we need to make the fundamental structural changes that technology enables if we are to see dramatic improvements in productivity. As we do so, we should recognize that although the fundamental purpose of our public education system is the same, the roles and processes of schools, educators, and the system itself should change to reflect the times we live in and our goals as a world leader. Such rethinking applies to learning, assessment, and teaching processes and to the infrastructure and operational and financial sides of running schools and school systems."

Parenthetically, and the only departure dwelling on present standardized testing, pp. 25-38 of the Plan are instructive.  If you read the citation, you will be left with a major question.

Addressing the Issue of Complication

For the literal-minded, “what you sees is what you gets,” and the issue may seem transparent; for example, a pad is a device based on a processor with graphics orientation, WiFi/Internet access, and with a whole private sector creating apps.  What’s so complicated?  For openers, the hardware has been dedicated to a different mix of allowable operations versus a desktop or comparable laptop computer.  Less processor capacity and speed, and less memory are available.  The operating systems are from present mobile operating systems, positioning a pad to be adept at communication rather than traditional computing, capable of being a reader, a videoconferencing tool, a word processor, an audio source, but neither designed for nor supplied with software allowing the problem solving capacities of the traditional desktop.  The answer to the question, where do you position a pad as a learning technology, requires an answer to the learning-based question; for what stages of learning and in what ways is it the applicable classroom tool?

Apply the same logic to all complex hardware being advocated for K-12.  The issue is that alternative hardware can serve comparable classroom uses, e.g., a pad, or laptop, or a smart phone, or a whiteboard, or a digital projector, can display information, be accessed interactively by a teacher, and supports communication and even animation, but with nuances in how each excels.  So, flip a coin, or run the cost numbers?  If every display opportunity equivalently served all learning factors in play, just that simple.  But there are:  Multiple dimensions of thinking; theories of learning; learning processes; actions that constitute the contents of any learning sequence; assessment options; learning styles; links between substantively what is to be learned and theories, processes, and actions; organizational and classroom arrangements; teacher capabilities; models; algorithms; paradigms; and rubrics.  It is not intuitively obvious where to invest.

Apparent above, the hardware also interacts with the software.  For example, there are somewhere in excess of 750K apps for pads and smart phones, with some unknown number applicable to K-12 learning.  A property of those apps is that they are bite-sized applications, not broadly designed for data base work, heavy research or problem solving calculations, complex simulations, or statistical analysis. For example, the ubiquitous Mathematica, major simulations, and most education statistical packages are not designed for pads and would be constrained.

Lastly, a large issue is the combinatorial effects above; multiple hardware types x learning modes x multiple learning assists x multiple software pros and cons x multiple classroom environments x multiple cost/investment scenarios = intuition fails.  Consider the analog with another training- and experience-rich professional skill set – the professional pilot.  Intensive training, both theory and practice, testing both concept-based and practical, at the high-order end of the function thousands of hours of drill and performance; pilots with all of those qualifications still use checklists, and pilots with all of those hours can still, failing that use, land with gear retracted.  Embarrassing, and the grinding noise is unnerving.  The matrices implied above, that shape technology elections, are the equivalent of the checklist for pushing the right technology buttons.

A Focus to Link Learning and Technology

An irony of the present reform movement is that it is based on a distortion of reasoning that has dominated public education since its development, the concept of reductionism.  Reductionism is defined as “…an approach to understanding the nature of complex things by reducing them to the interactions of their parts, or to simpler or more fundamental things, or a philosophical position that a complex system is nothing but the sum of its parts, and that an account of it can be reduced to accounts of individual constituents.”  Long the determining model for education methods, the standardized testing movement is no more than a glib expression of the same reasoning, that perfection of lower-order learning will energize all learning.  The temptation is to cite the old saw, “you gets what you pays for.”

Improving learning, from recognizing to designing, touching all aspects of the processes between, therefore requires some viable formulations that first identify what is in those processes, then reassembles the components to facilitate genuine learning, those higher-order thinking skills that when practiced in context germinate knowledge.  The technologies are metaphorically the servos that activate or orient information and thinking constructs that emerge as human learning.

Some to many learning processes have not been sufficiently developed or formalized, partially because of weak technology levels within public K-12, partially because Bloom’s taxonomy of learning and a 21st century version have become one standard bearer for addressing K-12 instruction.  Education psychologist Benjamin Bloom’s 1956 publication of Bloom’s Taxonomy (of learning stages) captivated public education.  Despite critics, it has endured and with numerous amendments to become Bloom’s 21st century digital taxonomy, and dominates learning stage citations numbering in the dozens of flavors.  In the process it may have also become a barrier to breaking through to another level of thought that might have smoothed introduction of technology.  

Figure A is one updated depiction of Bloom’s taxonomy, amended to illustrate the tools, techniques, methods, and materials that align with Bloom’s learning action steps.  The materiality is that the “products" shown are another rung on a ladder to technologies that fit.

Figure A


Higher-order thinking


(Putting together ideas or elements to develop an original idea or engage in creative thinking).


New game
Media product

(Judging the value of ideas, materials and methods by developing and applying standards and criteria).


Persuasive speech

(Breaking information down into its component elements).



Lower-order thinking

(Using strategies, concepts, principles and theories in new situations).

Carrying out


(Understanding of given information).


Show and tell

(Recall or recognition of specific information).



Source:  Iowa State University, Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching.

Figure B adds an additional factor, by suggesting a communications spectrum as a potential overlay for Bloom’s stages and verbs connoting action processes.

Figure B


Source:  Andrew Churches, Digital Bloom’s Taxonomy (NZ).

For illustration, this depiction of Bloom shows the concept of a gradient from lower level learning to higher order thinking skills.  “Finding” at the lowest level of alleged learning implies the ability to simply identify and decode information that conveys meaning, or in a digital world find information perhaps via the Internet or other search modality.  At the apex of Bloom’s “creating,” “designing” might invoke creative development processes, computer-assisted design, or something as exotic as creating an artificially intelligent avatar or creating state-of-art modeling.  All of Bloom’s stages infer possible technology fits.

Getting to Technologies

A private sector research firm, Ambient Insight, has attempted to connect up learning stages and technology, proposing the following types of learning products that infer hardware/software technologies:
  • Self-paced eLearning Courseware
  • Digital, video, Text & Audio Reference
  • Collaboration-Based Learning
  • Social Learning
  • Simulation-based Learning
  • Game-based Learning
  • Cognitive Learning
  • Mobile Learning

Interesting addition, but it still begs the core question.  Cognitive learning is a universe; every mathematical, statistical, biological, STEM, economic, environmental, space, social, and organizational concept amenable to quantification could swim in that pond.

Hence, a complete model of technologies applicable to K-12 is the combination of something like Bloom’s taxonomy x hardware types (computing, video, audio, tactile, discrete analytical, sensing, replicating) x matched logic operators (sorting, classifying, computational solutions, statistical analysis, simulation, gaming, optimization, allocation, sequencing and scheduling, data mining) x the classroom environment x discrete proprietary software that provides execution of these processes.

Figure C is an attempt to portray all of the basic factor categories that might dictate a technology election.  Each category breaks into multiple factors, and in this combinatorial form the task appears daunting.

Figure C


         Factor Categories                                                             Outcome

         Learning theories
         Learning stages                                     
         Learning actions
         Learning instrumentation                       

         Multi-purpose computer                        
         Communications hardware
         Mobile systems
         Social media                                                                            Unique
                                                                 FACTOR                         Need  &
                                                         COMBINATIONS    X      Technology
         School/classroom environment              
         Teacher status
         Student learning style                            
         Seat time
         Student attributes                                   
         Prior knowledge
         Special education requirements              
         Assessments -- formative/high order
         Subject matter taxonomy
         Subject matter structure/                        
             knowledge types
         Specific algorithms/paradigms/               
         Expert systems                                        
         Artificial intelligence

However, before resorting to one of the time-honored mechanisms for choice in the face of many options – squat and squint, or the dart, or the ultimate decision-maker, delegate it – some perspective is in order. 

The same conceptual problem occurs daily in commercial sourcing, where a buyer need is posed against an assortment of materials, sizes, physical specifications, performance specifications, prices, etc.  A sophisticated but common form of customer solution – and applicable to education technology choice – takes two branches:  One, the lookup table, where the work to match need to product or service has been exhaustively researched and the best options are defined for all key needs; or the development of an algorithm or model that takes as input the buyer’s needs, then solves for a best match between buyer specifications and available products or services.  The latter modeling, for example, can accommodate in addition to physical specifications, buyer or user preferences expressed quantitatively.

Applying the same logic to education technology matching means two extra courses of development, not seemingly off-the-shelf:  One, characterizing all of the hardware that fits in terms of a series of properties that discriminate how they fit classroom learning; and two, promoting the process of documenting, preferably by controlled experiment, a specific technology’s actual delivery of performance in the learning setting.  The software side of learning technology is a quicker study, because to an extent use can be experienced and evaluated by a user using the same rubrics that guide classroom practice and choice of methods.

A Midway Point

Because of the failure to exploit classroom digital technologies even at the level of higher education versus the private sector, that might have beneficially trickled down to effect K-12, present attempts to play catch-up place an exceptional burden on K-12 administrators and teachers.  To add to the shortfalls, the IT (information technology) function in K-12 education in particular has been low level; changing that is a major need and challenge, because applying IT in K-12 now entails dual skills to accelerate technology adoption, both the technology understanding and extensive awareness of learning theory and practice.

Revisiting opening arguments, real integration of digital technologies with present classroom practice means going back to the drawing board and rewriting K-12 education thinking on what works in both classroom, and increasingly in those learning venues outside the classroom that either reinforce or diminish classroom success.  That, in turn, means an effort to attract technological expertise to the classroom that goes beyond even the aspirations for Teach for America.  That means reform of schools of education.

What can be applied here and now in the public K-12 education trenches obviously won’t benefit even from competent strategic planning at a USDOE, or at state levels, and may not receive any help at all in the present testing-dominated environment.  If there are to be better technology inputs in K-12 they will have to happen at the local level, or secure some converts in our technology companies to invest in education.  Aside from Apple early out of the starting gate, now belatedly Microsoft, there has been precious little targeted private sector effort to specifically understand and tailor technology for education.

Part Three

Part Three of this series will attempt a street-level walk-through of a process for selecting hardware and methods that matches one or more of the Bloom learning stages in action, and a HOTS model, and in some assumed learning settings.  Early times, but a byproduct of that probing may be some concepts for heuristic modeling the matching of need and specific technologies, helping bypass the combinatorial challenge.