Progressive educrats tell us that the onset of the 21st century changes everything about how we educate children. What worked for little boys named Thomas Jefferson and Winston Churchill is now passe. In its place must be installed sophisticated technological systems for “personalized learning,” which will transform education. It’s becoming clear, though, that the new orthodoxy comes with major drawbacks, so much so that even High Priest of Education Technology Bill Gates finds it necessary to concede a few problems and give the congregation a pep talk.
Recently Gates admitted to a convention of ed-tech entrepreneurs and investors that education technology hasn’t lived up to its transformational promise. Despite the millions of dollars the Gates Foundation and the education establishment have poured into such technology, Gates acknowledged that “we really haven’t changed [students’ academic] outcomes.”
Although Gates hastened to reassure the parishioners that success is likely once the industry gets a better grasp of student and teacher needs, his acknowledgement of trouble in paradise is significant. Return on investment won’t come soon, he warned, and the path to profitability is strewn with obstacles such as budgeting challenges, untrained teachers, and lack of product piloting. But perhaps with eyes on tantalizing business prospects for Microsoft, Gates promised that his foundation will “do everything we can to help facilitate the creation of great technology.”
Gates’s cautionary tale comes even as more objective observers are sounding alarms that “personalized learning” may not be as game-changing as advertised. In September the UN’s Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a report showing that computers and other technology in the classroom don’t improve student achievement. When the UN – the UN! – which routinely pushes and in some cases creates the progressive agenda, admits that a progressive strategy is failing, it’s fair to assume the evidence of failure must be overwhelming.
Emmett McGroarty is the executive director of APP Education. Jane Robbins is an attorney and a senior fellow with the American Principles Project.