the education issue: technology in the classroom

(This is the third of my series of posts about the issue of education in the upcoming presidential election, in response to the challenge issued by Ronni Bennett in her blog, Time Goes By.)
Let’s face it. We Americans look to our leader to set an example as well as set policy. When it comes to computer and communications technology, McCain and Obama, as a recent NPR All Things Considered segment affirmed:

…..have very different digital resumes. Their habits were shaped, in part, by what they were doing when the digital age arrived.

Obama has been seen walking with his BlackBerry — so absorbed you worry he might bump into something.

McCain, on the other hand, says he rarely uses e-mail or the Internet.

OK. So, Obama sets a better example than McCain about the usefulness of technology. How does that translate into their policies, which, in turn will drive how important technology will be in education.
On the GOP side, from here

Asked if McCain had taken a position on broadband internet access in schools, Graham Keegan [who has worked with McCain since his 2000 presidential bid]said the senator had not yet released his stance on classroom technology. At a news conference after the forum, she said that position would be unveiled in the coming weeks. .

As might be expected, McCain’s technology initiatives would focus on the private sector and the free market, assuming, as Republicans tend to do, that the benefits would filter down to the common people:

McCain has proposed a program to provide tax and financial benefits for companies that provide broadband services to low-income and rural users, Powell says. “It may require some government assistance, either through financial subsidy policy or through other kinds of creative tools, like community or municipal broadband services.”
The real key for McCain, Powell says, is to hire more people with technology experience throughout the government who can envision technology solutions for education, health care, homeland security and other issues.

On the other hand, from here:

Obama has called for the creation of a new Cabinet-level position: a “chief technology officer” who would make sure the federal government imports the best technology tools from the private sector. That’s according to William Kennard, a technology adviser to the Obama campaign.
Obama’s philosophy on technology is “more activist” than that of GOP presidential candidate John McCain, Kennard tells NPR’s Michele Norris.

“Obama understands that the future of our economy depends to a large extent on how we can ensure that Americans have access to technology and we empower Americans to use it,” he says.

Obama supported a Clinton administration plan to provide all schoolchildren access to the Internet at school; McCain opposed it, Kennard says. He says Obama and McCain also differ when it comes to the universal service fund — a long-standing mechanism for providing phone service to rural areas that Kennard says Obama “embraces.”

“The reality is that if we rely simply on the free market, there will be many people in this country that will have to do without. This is fundamentally about economic development. It’s about making sure that people in rural areas can participate in the information age,” Kennard says.

It sounds to me that Obama is suggesting a coordinated effort, across the nation, to educate people (from schools to government agencies) on how to apply technology to make their daily work more effective. And he would appoint someone to be in charge of that effort.
McCain, on the other hand, has a less structured approach, seeming to suggest that private sector experts be hired by the government to “envision” how technology could be put to best use in all aspects of government, including education.
Why do I keep thinking of “Haliburton,” “Blackwater,” and outsourcing when I hear McCain’s approach?
The eSchool News piece cited before adds this about McCain’s long-term vision:

The president or other federal officials could promote more technology-based education, but long-term changes would largely be up to principals, superintendents, and school board members, Graham Keegan said.

A comment on that site, left by an experienced teacher, pretty well sums up what happens when you continue the approach supported by McCain that leaves it up to the individual school administrators to decide how important technology is to educating their students for success in the future:

You can’t have quality, functioning, technology without an onsite technology specialist. I was in one school that had one and it was wonderful. I also had more computers than students. Of course it was a wealthy, suburban system where most of the kids would have learned whether they had technology or not. Then I was in 2 poor urban systems. In one I had a half-broken MAC and a donated model I had to beg for. At another school I had 5 computers. 1 worked properly, but neither of the two printers hooked to it worked. Having technology entails taking responsibility for keeping it functioning.

If good, effective leadership requires both setting example and setting policy, the best candidate is obvious

2 thoughts on “the education issue: technology in the classroom

  1. Thank you for doing the research and writing these posts. Since Obama has been walking the walk when it comes to innovative constructive use of media (e.g., his podcasts, blog posts, website over the last three years) it is easier to believe his “talk” about technology accessibility and use in education. McCain does not know, let alone use technology in any meaningful way (e.g. sorry, emails are so old school (smile)) and therefore, I worry that the whole topic will become a non-topic if he gets into office.

  2. Technology is becoming more and more ingrained in the business world. The medical profession is being encouraged to keep all records on computers and to write prescriptions by computer to avoid mistakes.

    How then, can a child who has no access to a computer or other technologies every succeed in any job other than flipping burgers?

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