From the Principal's Office: Computer-to-Student Ratio Stats Are Not Measures of School Effectiveness

The field of education “focuses on initiatives targeting computer-to-student ratios and administration process automation, not learning processes or outcomes,” according to Alan Bain and Mark Weston, authors of The Learning Edge: What Technology Can Do to Educate All Children.

Though we claim to focus on student achievement with our technology initiatives, that focus is more often on the “stuff” rather than on what we have students and teachers do or achieve with that “stuff.” It’s clear that one of the most useless statistics we keep is computer-to-student ratio. It’s deceptive to ourselves and the public and we know it. We know that just because every student has access to a computer does not mean students are accessing them to engage in meaningful learning, and we also know having 1:1 access does not necessarily mean the teacher is using the technology to engage in meaningful teaching. And, as far as administration automation software, just because our state’s fancily automated student data systems provides the slickest and most numerous data reports does not mean our students are learning any more than they normally would nor can we say teaching is better, or will get better.

If we don’t focus on the quantity of computer our schools have and the elaborate software systems, what do we do need to focus on in order to capitalize on the true potential of technology for teaching and learning?

  • Instead of focusing on computer-to-student ratios, let’s revolutionize teaching and learning. We should not be purchasing technology to help us do what we've always done in our schools and classrooms. Let’s employ technology to completely reinvent instruction. We know what we are currently doing in our classrooms does not work for all students, and to try to use technology to simply automate and facilitate current educational practice is inadequate. Technology’s true potential lies in how it can create new ways of teaching and learning. We need to capitalize on that potential.
  • Instead of focusing on fancy administrative data systems, let’s keep them simple. When states try to create elaborate data systems, they often keep adding feature after feature. Underlying many of these systems is the whole idea that “You can’t have too much data” as an educator. But the opposite is actually true: it is possible to have too much data. Keeping these administrative data systems simple should be a priority. It’s a real problem when a teacher or administrator can’t run a simple student tardy report because the program is too complex. To keep this from happening, I would suggest that systems designers consult with practicing principals and teachers. Practicing educators can tell them what data they need, and what they need these systems to do.
  • Repeat the mantra: “The quality of a school is never measured by the number of computers in the building.” It is not a badge of honor for a school to have 10 computers per student, especially if those computers sit in carts untouched or on desktops gathering dust. In the end, a boast that our schools have 1:1 means very little if business is as usual in the classrooms.

The time has come for school leaders to stop talking about computer-to-student ratios and focus instead on what is much more important: teaching and learning.

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J. Robinson has decades of experience as a K12 Principal, Teacher, and Technology Advocate. Read more at The 21st Century Principal.