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When Pigs Fly, Part Two

Time to let go of the afterschool workshop

Last month's column featured my hardware and R&D related recommendations for the National Educational Technology Plan. Here are some additional recommendations for imaginative school leaders and members of President Nader's cabinet.

Action Item #1

When faced with the decision, trade connectivity for creativity.

Computers are powerful knowledge incubators and expressive devices, but kids need much greater access and inspiration. The over-reliance on networking raises cost dramatically and increases the risk of reducing computers to information appliances and children to passive recipients of other people's information.

Action Item #2

Professional Development?

Professionals develop, and they do so without federal intervention. Teachers who fail to use computers a quarter century after computers began entering schools is based on one of several factors--none of which is a shortage of professional development.

The punitive nature of NCLB and similar movements de-professionalize and de-skill teaching. Therefore, professional development, or continuous growth, is impossible.

Professional development does not work. Repeat after me. Professional development does not work. All of us know this intuitively or empirically. If PD did work, the vast majority of teachers would be using computers 25 years after their introduction. Schools employ teachers to benefit children and our efforts need to be focused on hiring and retaining adults willing and able to benefit children.

Professional development does not work. Repeat after me. Professional development does not work.

We must acknowledge that computer fluency among educators is unacceptably low. Progress is elusive as long as I regularly encounter school technology directors and computer teachers who could not draw a smiley face with a mouse at gunpoint.

One could argue that the artificial promotion of computing "priests" contributes to a cycle of dependency and ignorance among classroom teachers. There are far too many school employees with "computer" or "technology" in their title. We need to return these folks back to classrooms.

There needs to be much higher expectations for classroom computer use and innovative models must be available for inspiration.

Professional development issues are much bigger than the question of whether or not computers are integrated into the curriculum. For example, every teacher knows the value of project-based learning. The real challenge is releasing the death grip we have on traditional notions of curriculum, standards and assessment. We need to support a system that trusts teachers to trust kids to do meaningful work.

The federal government must stop funding the creation of unnecessary, unimaginative and unenforceable technology standards.

The government must stop rewarding higher-ed malfeasance and incompetence through programs like PT3. Awarding tax money to colleges and universities in order for them to do a job they have been responsible for since the dawn of time--preparing pre-service educators to teach in the world of tomorrow--seems misguided as public policy. Such programs are a form of educational methadone that make institutions dependent on federal funding to do what they should do on their own.

Action Item #3

Seek a broader range of visions.

Educators need a greater range of compelling models of classroom computer use in order to make informed decisions about long-range planning and daily practice. Corporate visions focus on that which is cheap, obvious and unlikely to support substantive educational progress. Testing and textbook interests once again dominate the educational software industry.

One look at OneNote, the forthcoming version of Microsoft Office, or even the tablet PC would lead you to conclude the Wizards of Redmond believe there are a great many meetings in our future. Computers are capable of so much more than turning a nation of kids into fabulous personal assistants.

Look to the visual and performing arts, as well as the worlds of mathematics and science for inspirational examples of how learning with technology can expand human potential.

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