Send us tips/photos/videos

[gtranslate]
Search

From the Editor: Prioritize teachers, not technology, for improved education outcomes

Add Your Heading Text Here

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

Posted on: September 14, 2023

BY GRIFFIN LIMERICK

In August, the Local News Network at University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism released “Contracted Out” — an elucidation of every vendor payment higher than $25,000 made by Maryland public school districts to contractors between the school years 2018-19 and 2021-22.

  In addition to quirky revelations like the $32,000 spent on pizza and pasta at Hyattsville’s Three Brothers Italian Restaurant, the report hints at a trend toward extravagant spending on technology: $331.9 million statewide to the tech services provider CDW Government Inc.; another $61.3 million to Dell and $15.6 million to Apple, solely from Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS).

The county school system recently announced a three-year partnership with the AI Education Project (aiEDU), which “aims to ensure that all teachers, students, staff, and school leaders are equipped to thrive in the age of artificial intelligence.”
Courtesy of Prince George’s County Public Schools

  At the same time, ABC 7News estimates the county will be short at least 2,000 teachers for the fledgling school year — 1,000 more than the estimate given by PGCPS. The higher number is corroborated by Dr. Donna Christy, head of the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association, who says teacher vacancies will lead to an “unsafe environment” due to lack of adult supervision, and a “massive amount of workload” for teachers forced to cover those vacancies. Stressed teachers will quit, leading to yet more vacancies.

  All of this yields a well-trod, yet perennially relevant question: How do we improve education outcomes for students? PGCPS benchmark data from the 2022 school year reveals that 75% of students aren’t meeting expected outcomes for English/language arts, and 95% are performing below grade level in math. How does one even begin to rewrite a tragedy like that?

  For PGCPS, as with most school districts, the answer always seems to be: spend more money on the latest trends. Prioritize technology, not teachers.

  While touring the new Hyattsville Middle School in August, I heard the phrase “collaborative learning” repeated like a mantra. A high-tech, media arts magnet program TV studio would be used for collaborative learning. Expansive, open hallways with flat-screen TVs on the walls were deemed collaborative spaces. The classrooms themselves — partitioned with collapsible walls — are capable of being combined for the sake of collaboration. And yet, my tour guide also mentioned that those collapsible walls will allow teachers to cover multiple classrooms at once when facing staff shortages.

The latter point strikes me as key: Money is prioritized for technological innovation that artfully expands the classroom and — along with it — the teacher’s workload, rather than for reducing classroom size by hiring more teachers.

  In an interview with Capital News Service, PGCPS Director of Communication Meghan Gebreselassie said the $61 million paid out to Dell and $15 million to Apple were for 150,000 Chromebooks and 19,000 iPads, respectively — pandemic-era purchases meant to “support students during distance learning.”

  The act of equipping every student with a computer as a metric of measurable success significantly predates the pandemic, however. Baltimore County Schools began its $147 million push to give every student a laptop back in 2014, and were already disappointed with the results by 2018. (“Contracted Out” shows they still gave Hewlett Packard $147 million over the past four years to perpetuate that policy.) When I was a high school teacher from 2018 to 2020, the school I worked for actively marketed to families the fact that every student would receive an iPad. It afforded the school a certain prestige. The iPads were trophies, a concrete thing to brandish before parents with the word “progress” engraved at the base.

  And yet, it’s no secret among teachers that technologies like iPads and laptops mostly serve as distractions in the classroom. Students chat with one another. Airdrop photos onto their peers’ screens. Play games like Fortnite or Minecraft. The school attempts to block any website it deems inappropriate or distracting, but students will always know more about new technologies than will the older authorities attempting to control them. As a friend’s 10-year-old recently pointed out, kids can unblock a site by entering the pin number provided with the computer. Or by using a different VPN. Or — why complicate things — by simply Googling how to unblock it. “You can’t block Google,” the 10-year-old astutely noted.

  Much of the teacher’s job, then, becomes monitoring whether a student is on task, as well as receiving the subsequent training involved in doing so effectively.

  Further complicating things is the introduction of AI into the classroom. In a recent press release, PGCPS announced a three-year partnership with the AI Education Project (aiEDU), which “aims to ensure that all teachers, students, staff, and school leaders are equipped to thrive in the age of artificial intelligence.” 

Language surrounding the partnership maintains the vague bureaucratic positivity of an administration looking to follow the latest technological trends without knowing why. Here’s new PGCPS Superintendent Millard House II: “Over my career, I’ve seen how technological advances have transformed our society. Artificial intelligence, especially language models and the tools they power, appears to be another game-changing technology, and we want to ensure our students and educators are on the front foot.”

  At the core of the statement, beneath the administrative gloss of speaking toward the future while things fall apart in the present, is a fear of missing out and a justification of — “Everyone else is doing it; we’re behind in the actual education part of education, which is messy and complicated, so why not stay ahead of the technological curve by incorporating the latest gadget?”

  But this leads to another important, yet perhaps less worn, question: Why is everyone else doing it? Where is the push for incorporating AI into classrooms coming from?

  On its surface, the organization behind this new county AI initiative, aiEDU, is harmless, even benevolent — a nonprofit — that organ of abstract good which bestows its generosity upon society. Yet all nonprofits must receive their money from somewhere, and one merely needs to look at who funds the organization in order to see the unstated purpose behind its goals.

  A quick glance at aiEDU’s website reveals top funders that include Google, Microsoft and OpenAI — all companies behind leading AI technologies like Chat GPT and Bard, all private entities looking to profit (in a roundabout way) from installing those technologies in classrooms. Another funder is the military contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, which was recently embroiled in a billing scandal with the U.S. government

Initially, it would appear as if these companies don’t stand to gain much from schools. The county aiEDU partnership is funded by a $1 million grant from the Pull Up Fund, after all, and far more lucrative contracts can be found outside of public school systems. But what companies like Microsoft or Google do stand to gain from normalizing their technology in the classroom is a generation of young minds that will grow dependent upon that technology and seamlessly herald it into a society no longer able to consider a world without it.

  They’ll also acquire data — lots of lucrative data.

  A seminal 2016 report from the corporate education monolith Pearson titled “Intelligence Unleashed: An argument for AI in Education” envisions a world of competing AI learning programs resembling “the marketplace that has developed for smartphone apps: hundreds and then thousands of individual AIEd components, developed in collaboration with educators, conformed to uniform international data standards, and shared with researchers and developers worldwide.” 

The data, the report continues, would come from a classroom of “novel user interfaces, such as natural language processing, speech and gesture recognition, eye tracking, and other physiological sensors, which could be used to augment both AIEd and non-AIEd software.” This data — provided at no cost by unwitting students — will be funneled back to the owners of the software for speculation and profit.

The role of the teacher is reimagined as something like that of a service technician who monitors a screen of real-time student data, constantly on the lookout for errant blinks, gratuitous yawns, wandering mouse clicks, alerted to every student’s missed question or waning attention span in a classroom of 30 — or, when covering two classes engaged in “collaborative learning” — 60 students.

AI, like every other new technological advancement, is lauded for bringing efficiency to the classroom. But education isn’t about efficiency. It’s about making mistakes. Going slow. Having time to reflect. In the same way that 80% of positive health outcomes are determined by patient-doctor relationships and meeting basic needs rather than medicine or radiography, positive education outcomes depend on students and teachers having the time to work slowly on a concept together in small groups, establishing meaningful bonds.

If you want to improve education outcomes, I would argue there’s a simpler blueprint: Pay teachers more. Radically higher wages, even. Average teaching salaries in Maryland are relatively high compared to the rest of the country, but new teachers earn around $49,000 a year — $1,000 below the state minimum living wage of $50,000, according to the National Education Association. Let’s pay new teachers more, too. This will help fill in some of those vacancies and reduce classroom sizes. 

Increase teacher planning time, as well. The 45 minutes a day that the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association recently negotiated for isn’t nearly enough, and the highest paid teachers in the world won’t stick around if class sizes are unmanageable and every free weeknight or weekend is devoted to their schools.

If you want to improve education outcomes, prioritize teachers, not technology.

__________________

Griffin LimerickGriffin Limerick is the managing editor of the Hyattsville Life & Times. 

Share:

Facebook
Threads
Twitter

The Streetcar Suburbs Spotlight

Local news and events straight to your inbox

Free! Cancel anytime.

Have a tip?

Send us tips/photos/videos

Related Posts

Hyattsville considers a Bodily Autonomy Act

By Adelia McGuire  Among other issues, the Hyattsville City Council discussed the newly proposed Hyattsville Bodily Autonomy Act at their Sept. 18 meeting.   Five city...

DeMatha football wins by 38 points but can play better

By Chris McManes DeMatha football coach Bill McGregor was pleased with his team’s point total and margin of victory Friday night. The Stags’ execution and...

DeMatha Football improves to 3-0 with thrilling five-overtime victory

By Chris McManes The No. 3 DeMatha football team teetered on the edge of defeat all night Friday. But the Stags regrouped with several big...