The Equalizer

The school district where I live has seen tremendous change in demographics in the last 10 years when my daughter started school. By the numbers, it’s about 44% free/reduced lunch, with one elementary school being nearly 90% ELL. The district has a significant (and growing) population of refugees – many of whom come to school literally days after arriving in the country. Many other students come from homes with lower incomes – whether formerly middle class families who have experienced job loss or other reasons.

If you evaluate the “achievement gap” by the numbers here, it’s truly scary. I sit on a district curriculum advisory committee, and have been able to look closely at the numbers. If our primary means of evaluating achievement is test results, then things look pretty bad. Students of non-majority ethnicities and lower incomes have significantly lower test scores.

I’d argue that things look even worse if we look at other indicators of achievement. I don’t know the numbers for graduation, or post-secondary education entry or completion. But I do know that the system is failing many of these kids in a crucial area: technology access.

In a Mindshift post this week, Tina Barseghian blogs about device access as the true equalizer. She has lots of statistics and more to support her argument. I just have anecdotal….

How do we expect students who never have access to devices of any kind to develop the digital literacy skills essential for success in post-secondary education? or in just about any workplace now? I dare you to find really any job that doesn’t use any technology. These students must have access to these devices and learn to use them responsibly in order to be functional in the bigger world.

A refugee family has many immediate needs to worry about: food, shelter, transportation, income. However, technology access should be an essential part of schooling, just like learning English.

Access doesn’t mean a computer lab in a school. Access means a personal device, or other immediate access. We all know that computer labs are taken up with testing now – there’s no room in the schedule to do other learning.

Access means teachers who feel comfortable with the technology, teachers who aren’t afraid to let it be used, to use it themselves.Teachers deserve access to training and tools in order to learn for themselves.

Access means a pedagogy in which teachers and administrators see themselves as guides, rather than solely content experts.

Access means devices. Here’s hoping my district can make that happen.

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