Sometimes, being a teacher is like living in a world of catch-22s. You’re asked to do more, yet your school’s budget has been slashed to shreds. You need your students to post good standardized test scores, even if you yourself don’t think the tests are the best measurement for your students. You’re expected to keep up with the latest news and issues in the world of education and pursue professional development opportunities, but managing a class of 32 kids is exhaustive on its own. The list goes on.
This Heller-esque landscape is captured plainly in a new survey out today from the Pew Research Center. Based on responses from just under 2,500 National Writing Project (NWP) teachers, many teaching Advanced Placement (AP), honors or accelerated classes in public high schools. With respondents from across the country teaching students from a broad range of socioeconomic backgrounds, the survey shows that confusion reigns the day when it comes to using technology in our nation’s schools.
54% of teachers say their students have sufficient access to technology while at school, but only 18% say the same is true in students’ home environments.
If students are unable to access and complete the online homework assignments assigned by 76% of the teachers in the survey, then emphasizing the importance of technology in education can seem meaningless. These numbers suggest that AP and NWP teachers are trying to adapt their curricula to make better use of technology, which is great, but if so few students are able to access the that technology, then what’s the point? That 54% figure is also troubling, and seems to bolster an argument for more portable devices like laptops, tablets and e-readers that don’t require a dedicated computer lab space, and can move easily between home and school. This doesn’t solve all problems—without wifi at home, many of these devices are practically useless for online learning—but it’s a start.
73% of teachers use cell phones and/or smartphones in the classroom and for completing assignments, but 42% say their students know more about using technology than they do.
This is a dangerous balance, and conflicts with other findings in the study—for example, only 15% of teachers for high-income students say their school is behind the curve in using technology for education, and 39% of teachers in low-income schools agree. But then, 68% of teachers report that their schools provide formal training in using technology for learning, so where’s the disconnect? If more teachers aren’t walking away feeling more confident about using new technology, it follows that the teacher training isn’t working. Which, on its own, is a huge problem.
49% of teachers of students living in low-income households report that their school’s use of internet filters has a major impact on their teaching, while only 24% of teachers for more advantaged students agree.
This one stumps me. At least here in New York City, internet filters are set universally for all schools in the Department of Education, although there are some permissions that can be altered on a case-by-case basis. Why there should be such a disparity between high-income and low-income schools is confusing and not fully explained, but nevertheless, this finding from the survey does point strongly to filters and firewalls as potentially major reasons for a digital divide. It’s also a cause for schools to rethink their policies, and focus on the online resources that are available to teachers working behind strict firewalls.
The report is massive, and if you’re interested in doing more point/counterpoint on some conflicting statistics, I promise that you won’t be disappointed. You’re also likely to have a greater appreciation for the contradictory sets of expectations, rules and realities that face our teachers every day.