San Antonio – The advertising insert in yesterday’s San Antonio Express News paid for by the Northeast Independent School District erroneously asserts that the District must spend over $26 million on computer and technology upgrades as a result of “state mandates.” “No such state mandate exists and any claims by NEISD officials to such effect should be corrected and retracted,” said Texas Public Policy Foundation President Jeff Judson.

In its 6-page advertisement, a section on page 4J is headlined “State mandates computer technology skills taught beginning in kindergarten classes.” The article which follows states that “[t]he newly adopted Technology Applications Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) by the state legislature provides technology curriculum for the first time in the state of Texas. With the Technology Applications in mind, the district needs to provide – to the degree possible – the computer equipment for teaching the Technology Applications curriculum, as well as to provide the necessary infrastructure to support technology growth. The Technology portion of the bond package is basically a result of state mandates (emphasis added).”

Texas Education Code §28.002 contradicts the NEISD’s claim of such a mandate: “Career and technology education” and “technology applications” are considered “enrichment” curriculum that is not mandated to be taught in any specific grade or through the use of any specific equipment. As stated in TEC §28.002(d) “[t]he State Board of Education … shall by rule identify the essential knowledge and skills of each subject of the enrichment curriculum that all students should be able to demonstrate. Each district shall use the essential knowledge and skills identified by the board as guidelines in providing instruction in the enrichment curriculum (emphasis added).” “Guidelines” are not mandates, unlike the “foundation” curriculum of English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies, which are mandated. The TAAS test, which students must pass to graduate from high school, does not test for computer skills. The Texas Administrative Code does require one credit of “Technology applications” for high school graduation but this requirement can be satisfied by taking any one of 17 courses. The mandate for one high school credit hardly justifies a $26 million expenditure.

NEISD Proposition #3, which would cost local taxpayers over $26 million plus interest, calls for adding extra data ports, microwave links for secondary schools, upgrades to network connections, telephone system upgrades, additional student computers/printers, and computer cables. Such computer installations often require costly upgrades to air conditioning equipment and electrical systems.

There is considerable research-based proof that the efficacy of computer instruction in schools is highly overstated. More than a few critics have disparaged the notion that incorporating computers into our schools will enhance student performance. They argue that too much time spent on computers can dull the imagination and creativity. According to Richard Lookatch, educational psychologist with the Agency for Instructional Technology, studies which show an increase in learning as a result of computers in the classroom are generally flawed. Once variables such as information content and instructional strategies are controlled, differences in learning disappear.

Envisioning the process by which technology is used in the classroom makes it easier to understand how its effectiveness is limited. Most classroom teachers have little or no specialized computer training, yet the most impressive software packages take many hours to master, especially to a degree at which they can be taught to others. In addition, once the software packages are introduced to the student, locating useable information can be a monumental task in itself. Online searches can be frustrating. There is little that has been standardized on the Internet. A search for the term “cell division” on various Internet search engines produced results varying from 1 to 1,873,010 hits.

The Dallas Morning News yesterday reported that Internet pioneer Dr. Clifford Stoll, an astronomer, writer, computer security consultant and lecturer, is publicly arguing against computers in schools. Previously an advocate of computer training, Dr. Stoll is now writing a book that is critical of the use of computers in schools. “Along the way, I’ve discovered that using computers. . .was a great way to make it look like I was doing wonderful academics when in fact I’m just screwing around,” Dr. Stoll said. “When I think of the skills that I need as an astronomer, they’re skills like knowing mathematics, understanding physics, being able to write a paper . . . All those things are really handy things in astronomy, and I didn’t learn any of them using a computer,” he said.