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When Pigs Fly

Gary Stager's Technology Plan for America's Schools

The federal Department of Education is developing the Third National Education Technology Plan. Who knew? The first two plans must have been top secret. In case my recommendations don't make it to the Oval Office, I'll share them with you. (Look for my ideas about professional development next month.)

Action Item #1

The Repeal of NCLB

Since one assumes that the National Educational Technology Plan is an attempt at educational innovation, the policies associated with No Child Left Behind must be repealed immediately. NCLB undermines teacher professionalism, proscribes curricular innovation, inhibits classroom creativity and fuels a climate of fear where risk-taking is impossible.

Action Item #2

Document and disseminate outstanding practice

The federal DOE should employ documentary crews or partner with television networks to record, produce and disseminate examples of imaginative classroom practice. There are great things happening in American classrooms, and the world needs to see them. Teachers need to be inspired and educated by such examples, and politicians need to embrace innovative alternatives to traditional schooling.

Schools should get out of the hardware business entirely through a program of student-owned or leased laptops.

In addition, the DOE would do well to heed its own counsel. Generation Y,, a scalable school reform model based on the cultivation of a mutually beneficial learning culture for children and adults, was recognized by the DOE as one of the only exemplary professional development programs in the history of the department. The government should do more to inform schools of such outstanding programs.

Action Item #3

Fund R&D in every school

Seymour Papert has been advocating that every school spend at least 1 percent of its budget on research and development. Teachers may compete to lead learning experiments and share their findings with colleagues. The federal government could fund such efforts.

Action #4

Invest substantially more money for hardware

A hypothesis for why computers are underutilized in American schools is that there are just too few of them. Most studies indicate that the average child uses a computer for less than one class period per week (in school). Scarcity is a major obstacle to adoption and the shortage of computers has enabled them to be used in a trivial fashion for more than two decades. I propose two ways of dramatically increasing computer access in American schools.

The federal government should buy a few million multimedia laptops. (Even if you disagree with this recommendation, there is insufficient real estate for desktops.) This would bring the cost of computers down appreciably while improving the economy and enhancing education.

Or, schools should get out of the hardware business entirely through a program of student-owned, leased or borrowed laptops. Tax law could be changed to make the purchase of a child's laptop tax deductible. Federal subsidies could be put in place to assist poor children close the digital divide by using a calculation related to free and reduced lunch. The government could guarantee low-interest loans for the purchase of personal computers intended for educational use.

Every learner laptop would come with insurance against theft or loss in addition to an extended warranty. The most effective tech support is the nice woman in the school office who takes a broken computer from a child, hands them a loaner and calls the manufacturer or reseller to repair the computer.

Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and emerging wireless capability should be in every student computer. This reduces the need for government intervention on behalf of network infrastructure. Every community can fund access or demand it from telecom and cable licensees. Whenever a choice needs to be made between more computers or more wiring, choose more computers.

Gary Stager is editor-at-large and an adjunct professor at Pepperdine Univ.