Auburn Citizens for Responsible Education
By Carlo J. Gammaitoni M.D.
Auburn Citizens for Responsible Education was formed because of frustration regarding our children’s education and lack of demonstrable achievement, particularly at the middle school and high school levels.
While clearly realizing that technology must play a role in our children’s education, we believe the iPad program represents a symptom of a much larger problem. This problem is the flawed thought process that throwing more money at a problem will actually solve the problem.
Allocating more money, either nationally or locally, is not the education panacea that many citizens believe it to be. The data from the past three decades with regard to education clearly shows otherwise.
Between 1995 and 2011, with the most recent proposed school budget, Auburn School Department spending increased from $21.7 million to $34.3 million—a 58.5 percent increase. During this same time, inflation rates have been at an historical low. With all of this increased spending, have we seen improvements in our educational system?
Graduation rates in this state have consistently shown that approximately 67 percent of children earn a high school diploma in four years. The SAT determines what students have learned at school and how well they can apply that knowledge. The SAT also tests crucial critical thinking skills, which are necessary for college and beyond.
According to maine.gov, the “SAT is one of the best predictors of college success. In fact, when combined with high school grades, the SAT is the best predictor of college success, with a high correlation between SAT scores and first-year college GPA. Furthermore, some states including Maine use the SAT as the state’s educational assessment.” (http://www.maine.gov/education/mhsa/factsheet.pdf)
Each of these purposes has been confirmed as a valid use of the test. Between 1995 and 2009, the most recent data available for SAT scores, Maine did not rate well. For example, in 1995 Maine’s average verbal SAT score was 427 out of a possible 800, while the average math SAT score was 469 out of a possible 800. (https://www.student.gsu.edu/~oteel/SAT%20Regression%20Report.htm)
In 2009 Maine’s average verbal SAT score was 468, and the average math score was 467. (http://blog.bestandworststates.com/2009/08/25/state-sat-scores-2009.aspx) In 2009 Maine’s average writing SAT score was 455. All together in 2009, Maine ranked 50th among state SAT scores.
Taking a closer look at Auburn’s statistics, the SAT and other standardized tests indicate poor proficiency levels in critical reading, mathematics, science and writing. Specifically, 55 percent of students are not proficient at grade level in critical reading skills; 55 percent of students are not proficient at grade level in mathematics; 58 percent of students are not proficient at grade level in science; and 62 percent of students are not proficient at grade level in writing skills. (http://www.maine.gov/education/mhsa/10schoolreports/school/1007/10071142/SchReHS10071142.pdf)
Does it follow that increased educational spending leads to better scores? In 2005-06, Maine ranked fifth in per pupil expenditures at $12,985. (http://blog.bestandworststates.com/2009/01/29/state-rankings-on-education-spending.aspx) Are these the results we should expect, and are we happy with them?
According to Maine Department of Education statistics, our results are no better at the middle school level. Seventh and eighth graders in Auburn consistently show poor proficiencies in math, reading and writing scores. For the years 2009 and 2010, 42 percent and 40 percent of seventh-grade students, respectively, were not proficient at grade level in mathematics. Within this same group, reading statistics indicate that 31 percent and 34 percent, respectively, are not proficient at grade level.
For the years 2009 and 2010, eighth-grade statistics reveal that 43 percent and 41 percent, respectively, of students are not proficient at grade level in mathematics; 40 percent and 43 percent, respectively, are not proficient at grade level in reading; and 53 percent of eighth-grade students are not proficient at grade level in writing.
In the last 10 years Maine had started a laptop program at the middle school level. What was its intended purpose? Has that program been successful? Can we not assume that the introduction of a broad sweeping technological program, such as the laptop program, should result in better educational performance of our students?
If we cannot expect this technological expenditure to improve our children’s educational performance, is it worth it? What benefit to our students is exposure to technology if they cannot read, write or be proficient in math and science at grade level?
What good is exposure to technology if one out of four Auburn students does not finish high school, and only 57 percent of those going on to college actually graduate? (http://blog.gocollege.com/2010/05/23/the-ten-highest-graduation-rates-among-state-universities/)
How can we expect an iPad program that is ill defined and of unproven benefit to yield any better results?
According to Rachel Brown-Chidsey, Ph.D., NCSP, who is the Associate Professor and Program Coordinator of the Educational and School Psychology Programs at the University of Southern Maine: “The research on computers in schools has consistently shown that they cannot replace teachers and that they are best for practicing known skills but less helpful when it comes to students learning new skills.”
Based upon the available literature regarding technology in education the plan, we in Auburn Citizens for Responsible Education believe that having such young children use iPads for instructional purposes is perplexing and misguided. No technological tool will ever replace direct and systematic instruction.
Does it make sense that our proposed school budget allocated $155,796 for technology-related hardware or $121,210 for two technology teachers? Although these allocations have been eliminated in the reworking of the budget, this represents the failed thought process that spending more money—without critical assessment of program effectiveness—is the cure for our city’s educational ills.
If our school committee and superintendent have a goal to improve literacy and math proficiency by 37 percent and 40 percent, respectively, as stated in their Advantage 2014 initiative, there are other ways to achieve these results. It is clear that continuing to increase educational spending and expecting better results is flawed thinking.
At the end of the day, effective teachers who are well trained in mathematics, science, reading and writing, and who are highly skilled in providing direct, systematic and ongoing instruction, are what will make the difference—not the screen of a laptop or an iPad.