A news story out of central Florida caught my eye recently with the headline: “Schools Moving Toward Digital Textbooks.” Many of these stories in local papers talk about a district’s purchase of devices and “how excited and engaged students are in their learning.” As a former editor, I always asked my writers to NOT give our readers those kinds of quotes. Of course the students are excited; they just got a cool device. Of course they are engaged; they are working with a device that offers all kinds of different approaches to interact beyond reading a flat textbook. These approaches are similar to those they use outside of school – the ones they choose to use when they have a choice.
This article has some of that, but it also has a couple of tidbits.
The first is a reference to Mooresville, NC schools. This oft-cited school has a truly forward leaning superintendent, Mark Edwards, who actually tracks the data in his schools and is interested in the impact the innovations he has implemented have on student achievement. He is quoted as saying, “We’re currently 100th in the state in funding and second in the state in overall academic achievement.” That is the kind of information that school board members, legislators and other policy makers want to hear. The policy makers are OK with excitement and engagement, but they usually are not willing to plunk down hundreds of thousands of dollars on changes that have little or no evidence of impact on student learning.
The other tidbit is something I have been waiting to hear educators say, and it comes from another superintendent, Dr. Casey Wardynski of Huntsville City Schools in Alabama. The quote is worth including it in its entirety.
“A lot of people when they think about digital education or digital conversion, they are thinking e-books and Kindles. That’s the weakest form. The strongest form looks almost like a game a child will play. So in the middle school curriculum, by the time a child solves the problem, they’ve already got 12 windows open, they’ve got a Cartesian coordinate, they have video running of the lesson, they can pull up a textbook or a piece of the lesson. They can also bring up 300 other textbooks.”
I would bet that if you asked Wardynski, he could tell you how student achievement has been impacted in Huntsville schools or he can tell you of the plan they have to track it.
I wonder how many other superintendents there are out there who can cite that kind of data that Edwards does or who has the kind of sophisticated understanding of the technology that Wardynski does.