“I appreciate what technology has done for your freedom of thought, your freedom to teach, and even more what technology has done to open the minds of students,” Ravitch said. “That is a revolution.”
Technology is full of promise for the adventurous teacher, and Ravitch said she has seen the potential it holds when teachers take educational technology to the next level and make learning challenging, yet still engaging, for students.
But technology has its perils as well, Ravitch warned. Teachers aren’t the only ones who see technology’s potential in the classroom—entrepreneurs see it as a way to make money, and policy makers see it as a way to cut costs and, in some cases, eliminate teachers.
Ravitch addressed online education providers and virtual academies that turn into big business for executives and investors. Some virtual-school providers have high teacher-to-student ratios and receive money for each student enrolled, without providing students with traditional brick-and-mortar benefits.
“Some advocates of online instruction say it will make possible reductions of 30 percent of today’s teaching staff,” Ravitch said. “The bottom line [for some] is profits, not students.”
Ravitch next turned to teacher evaluations, saying that some academic researchers believe “great teaching can be quantified down to the decimal point. They think they can deduce from these numbers which teachers are great and which can be fired on the spot.”
She continued: “They make these calculations without ever entering a classroom; they speak assuredly because they have data. The algorithm can’t be wrong, can it? Or can it? … Making public these value-added numerical evaluations demoralizes teachers. Without technology, no one would be able to make up such ridiculous ratings systems.”
The anonymity that technology offers is another peril, because while technology makes a world of information available to anyone with access, it also “brings out unbelievable meanness in strangers. … One thing that we have to teach our students is how to ignore cyber insults,” Ravitch said.
Cyber bullying differs from typical schoolyard taunts because the words are put online and often remain online for all to see, having a far greater impact on children, especially sensitive children.
A fourth peril revolves around the incredible amounts of information to be found online.