Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013 | 2:25 p.m.
Former New York City schools Chancellor Joel Klein stressed the importance of technology in the 21st century classroom during a keynote speech today at the Higher Education Tech conference at the International CES.
Klein, who is now the CEO of the education-technology startup Amplify, bemoaned the static state of American schools. Classrooms haven't changed much over the past century, Klein said as he showed pictures from the 1920s of teachers lecturing in front of students sitting in rows of desks.
"If education were a business, they would have shut it down a long time ago," Klein said. "Basically what we have is a broken business."
Although per-pupil funding has risen to record highs, spending increases haven't delivered many results, Klein said.
"We're outspending everyone, but we're not outperforming" our competition, Klein said. "We need to change so the next generation of Americans is served better."
Klein applauded education reform efforts, such as teacher development and the Common Core State Standards, a new, more rigorous curriculum being implemented in 45 states. But he said the biggest innovation in education will come from new classroom technologies, such as tablet computers and teaching software.
When Klein was the chancellor of the New York City Department of Education from 2002 to 2011, technology in the classroom consisted of computer labs. Now, schools across the country are looking to use mobile devices such as tablets and smart phones as a way to teach students.
"Everything else has already made the leap," Klein said, referring to industries such as commerce that have been quicker to adopt new technologies. "Education has to do the same."
Some schools, such as the Rocketship charter schools in California, already are pioneering "one-to-one" technology, which puts computers in the hands of every student. But one of the biggest barriers to widespread adoption of mobile technology in the classroom has been its high cost. In 2010, the average cost of a tablet PC was $543.
But by 2014, that is expected to fall by about half, to $263, Klein said. As costs drop, more schools should adopt such technologies, he added.
"If kids have their own device, they can get smarter and smarter," he said.
Although early studies have shown mixed results on the effect technology has in improving student outcomes, Klein argued that teachers are more efficient educators and students are more engaged learners with technology.
"Engagement is critical," Klein said. "A lot of kids learn on their own pace. (Technology) enables us to personalize and customize (curricula.)"
The digital wave in education seems inevitable. About 90 percent of states plan to adopt online tests in the coming years, 60 percent of schools plan to use digital textbooks, and about half of schools are looking to expand the use of mobile devices in the classroom, Klein said.
At CES, the nation's largest technology conference, scores of vendors hawked new software and hardware for educators. New technologies include Klein's Amplify, a software that allows teachers to deliver lesson plans and track student attendance using tablet computers. Other technologies included a cheaper way for professors to create course packs and new student desks that allow for different classroom configurations and computer access.
The education-technology sector is a booming industry, with investors pouring $429 million into education start-up companies in 2011, up from $146 million in 2002, according to the National Venture Capital Association
The growth has fueled a number of sweeping changes in education. Universities have formed partnerships to offer free online courses, and textbook publishers such as McGraw Hill have accelerated the digitization of paper books.
That has Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones excited for the future of education in Las Vegas. Jones also participated in a CES panel discussion about technology and education.
Although Clark County lost its bid for $40 million in federal Race to the Top money, the goal of having school districts provide a "personalized learning environment" for students continues to resonate, Jones said. For many school districts, that means equipping each student with a computer or other learning device, he said.
Since Jones' arrival two years ago, the Clark County School District has launched several iPad programs, particularly in schools with a large population of low-income students. The nation's fifth-largest school district also has been one of the first large urban districts in the country to implement Wi-Fi Internet access at most of its 357 schools. By 2015, the school district hopes to have more than 100,000 students in blended classrooms, which meld the traditional teacher-led class with online courses.
"It's a great opportunity to innovate and move the dialogue forward," Jones said. "I think we can get out in front and lead the nation in the coming years."
The school district is investing $50 million into a new student information system, iPad programs and technology infrastructure to support an online standardized test rolling out in 2014. It's a hefty investment but well worth it, Jones said.
"We would be doing a disservice to our community if we don't invest," Jones said.
Still, the cash-strapped district faces challenges. In the wake of the recession, it has been difficult to convince the community of the need to invest in new technologies, especially when teachers and programs have been cut.
With more than 17,000 teachers, the school district also has trouble providing enough teacher training to support new technology, Jones said.
"We focus so much on the individualized learning environment for teachers that we leave the teachers behind and we wonder why there's a disconnect," Jones said. "I need that individualized learning environment for teachers."
Scaling up the iPad pilot programs also will prove difficult for the School District, which serves some 311,000 students.
"That's going to be a huge task for us," Jones said. "It's a lofty goal, but very difficult to envision how to implement that in a large system."
But as smart phone prices drop, students will begin bringing in their own computers and smart phones to campus, Jones surmised. That's why the School District is investing so heavily in wireless infrastructure in schools and why the School Board is rethinking its campus ban on cell phones, Jones said.
"Kids are already going to have these devices," Jones said. "That's why we've got to change that learning environment (for students)."