A High-Tech Fix for Broken Schools

Juan Williams of the Wall Street Journal recently wrote an article about technology-based personalized learning strategies being employed across the country that have shown success.  Excerpts from the article are below.

…Prize-winning documentaries such as “Waiting for ‘Superman'” have revealed the terrible cost of losing young minds to failing schools. Dropout rates are particularly high among minority children in urban schools. But even parents in the best suburban schools are alarmed by the fact that the U.S. now ranks 30th world-wide in math, 23rd in science, and 17th in literacy.

This is why the modestly funded schools in Mooresville [N.C.] are drawing national attention. The school district ranks 100th out of 115 school districts in North Carolina on per-pupil spending. But in the last 10 years, its test scores have pushed it from a middling rank among North Carolina’s school districts to a tie for second place.

Three years ago, 73% of Mooresville’s students tested as proficient in math, reading and science. Today, 89% are proficient in those subjects.

The big change in Mooresville began when Superintendent Mark Edwards took the radical step of cutting back on teachers and using the money to give every student from third grade through high school a laptop computer.

All of their textbooks, notes, learning materials and assignments are computerized, allowing teachers and parents to track their progress in real time. If a student is struggling, their computer-learning program can be adjusted to meet their needs and get them back up to speed. And the best students no longer wait on slow students to catch up. Top students are constantly pushed to their limits by new curricular material on their laptops.

Some 600 miles north of Moorseville, New York City’s “School of One” in Brooklyn has had similar success with a digital-learning program. The mathematics-centered middle school has reported significant gains in the test scores of its students since it was founded in 2009. Joel Klein, the former chancellor of the New York City public schools, helped initiate the program and is now one of the leading proponents for digital learning…

In Florida, former Gov. Jeb Bush pioneered large-scale digital learning as part of his education-reform efforts. “If you want to take an [advanced placement] class, you can do this online, and people flock to that opportunity. So, it has improved learning and they don’t get paid unless the course is complete,” Mr. Bush says. “Imagine if the public schools accepted that idea. You would have a lot more children gaining the power of knowledge.”

Some critics charge that digital learning is a boondoggle, a way for the private companies that make the technology to profit by selling their products to school districts. Messrs. Klein and Bush respond that we must support new ideas and budding solutions that show promise to fix schools-regardless of their origins.

Mr. Bush puts it this way: “If it’s for-profit or not-for-profit or it’s developed by the schools inside a district or by teachers inside of schools, does it matter?”

The bottom line is that bringing more technology into the classroom shows tremendous promise to improve schools. And any doubters should take a look at the little school district now speeding along in Mooresville.

To read the full article, please visit http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444184704577587452644436784.html