New Information Technology Directions for American Education: Improving Science and Mathematics Education (Excerpt from a National Science Foundation Report)

By Melmed, Arthur S.; Burnham, Robert A. | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), August 1988 | Go to article overview

New Information Technology Directions for American Education: Improving Science and Mathematics Education (Excerpt from a National Science Foundation Report)


Melmed, Arthur S., Burnham, Robert A., T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


New Information Technology Directions For American Education: Improving Science and Mathematics Education

This report is an analysis of the findings of four workshops sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation. The workshops aimed to explore in what ways interactive technology can now--after 25 years of research and development--be considered an option for improving American education. Summary reports of the workshops can be found in appendices to the full report and lists of the primary findings of the workshops accompanies this article. The analysis presented here is the responsibility of the principal investigators alone.

America is in rapid social and economic transition. Changing circumstances are undermining the effectiveness of traditional classroom instruction. A different educational model may be required, rather than marginal reform of the present system.

Unacceptable Limits

The present system of American education has been powerfully determined by two characteristics: traditional classroom instruction and decentralized finance and governance. These characteristics have allowed for the easy growth of elementary-secondary education from some 400,000 students in 1870 to about 40 million today. They may now set unacceptable limits on educational effectiveness in a changing America. A new, culturally heterogeneous student population, a less docile and obedient student, a pervasive TV presence, and a decline in the academic quality of teacher candidates are new conditions (not transitory problems) that challenge the concept of school isolated from the realities of social and economic life. The cost of school practice that clings to a romantic image of the little red school house is high. Academically weak students drop out without learning all that they should, while academically strong students do not learn as much as they could for the time they invest.

America is in rapid economic transition. Technological advances in the 400 years since Watt's invention of the steam engine will be eclipsed by developments in the next 40 years, with profound implications for the world and for American society. New technological frontiers like space, biotechnology and computer intelligence will make new demands on the schools for improved student learning, and for the improvement in human capital necessary for America to compete successfully in an expanding international economy. In these circumstances of new educational demands and changing social and economic conditions, it seems prudent to consider whether the nation's educational requirements can be satisfied by the present lockstep model of classroom instruction, or by a system of educational governance that does not effect a suitable investment in scientific research and development.

Educational practice is not ordained, and history assigns no credit for invention of the classroom. The ease with which this 'production kernel'--the classroom--could be reproduced in America's reach for mass education is a vestigial virtue. Presently, there are some 2 million classrooms in the United States, with an average student-teacher ratio of about 21:1. Regular cries of public dissatisfaction with school performance produce equally regular popular and learned accounts of the need to reduce, or sharply reduce, the average student-teacher ratio. It seems everyone suspects that at least one other educational practice--individual and small-group tutoring--will produce better results than classroom instruction.

In fact, empirical evidence reveals that students can learn in many ways: independently; in small and large groups, with or without a tutor or teacher; and from books, television and computers. The issue is not how best to facilitate student learning, but how best to facilitate the education of all school-age students at a cost society is prepared to pay. There is no evidence that traditional classroom instruction optimizes mass education at current prices for America's school-age population; there is ample evidence that it fails many. …

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