March 28, 2021

Victoria Cain and Adam Laats: Beware of Replacing Teachers With Tech

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Fans of ed tech are chomping at the bit, smelling a huge opportunity coming out of the pandemic disruption of schools. In the Washington Post these two professors look at some educational history and warn that ed tech may not deliver the solutions it promises.

It’s coming.

Years of poor pay and tough working conditions have squeezed experienced teachers out of the profession and discouraged new ones from coming in. The coronavirus pandemic has only made the situation worse, with teachers’ reluctance to risk their health becoming a culture-war football. Already, in school districts across the country, administrators are scrambling to find the teachers they need.

It is a pattern as old as public school systems themselves. When cities such as New York and Philadelphia created their modern public schools in the early 1800s, they ran into a roadblock. Namely, teachers were expensive. In their rush to find seats for all the low-income students in their cities, city leaders embraced the promises of London reformer Joseph Lancaster.

Lancaster’s story is old and yet instructive. He made big promises. He was not the last, obviously, to see miracles in technology. Cain and Laats take us to the 1950s

Instead of raising taxes to hire new teachers, reformers suggested that schools turn to television. Television was “an almost perfect educational instrument,” one that could easily be used to multiply the labor of the best educators in any given city, maintained Ford Foundation official Alvin Eurich. He and other reformers proposed that large groups of students — up to 300 at a time — spend half their school day in auditoriums or cafeterias watching television broadcasts of a few “master teachers.” The other half of the day, students would gather in conventional classrooms to review what they had learned.

The conclusion?

But policymakers should remind themselves that in the present, as in the past, they will get only what they pay for. Technology can be a tool for teachers and students, but it can’t replace the role of a trained, engaged human teacher. As parents have come to appreciate during the pandemic, in-person teaching inspires students far more than Zoom school ever will. In person, teachers connect and engage with students in ways that screens simply can’t replicate.

Lots of lessons in this piece. You can read the whole post here.

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