By Brian Bickmore
At a recent Board of Education meeting, the idea of converting one of MPS’ buildings into a New Tech facility, an institution that utilizes cutting-edge technology as a basis for teaching, was discussed. However, this would be a poor decision since traditional “old school” style education is just as effective and much more cost efficient.
In a time of great financial hardship for MPS, an estimated price of around $1000 extra per student per year for this alteration should be enough to avoid giving it any serious consideration at all. Programs and services previously considered necessary have been slashed as a result of funding issues. With those cost-saving measures already negatively impacting the quality of education in a major way district-wide, finding a way to spend even more money should not be high on the BOE’s agenda.
Besides, advantages to the program seem nonexistent from MPS’ perspective for a multitude or reasons. First, their students are already achieving at an extremely high level. At the two high schools in the district, standardized test scores are consistently well above average. One example where this is demonstrated is the Michigan Merit Exam, an assessment taken by all juniors in the spring that measures how well students are mastering skills outlined for each grade. According to the Michigan Department of Education figures from 2011, DHS scored 25 percent above the state average in reading on it, 16 percent in social studies, 25 percent in science, 28 percent in writing and 28 percent in math. MHS was slightly lower across the board, but still put up very high marks as they were 15 percent above the state average in reading, 11 percent in social studies, 23 percent in science, 20 percent in writing and 26 percent in math. There is an old adage that “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” which is clearly applicable in this case. After years of consistent excellence as a byproduct of using time-tested methods, the thought of trying something new should not cross anybody’s mind.
Another component of why it makes sense for the district to continue doing business as usual is post-high school success. A majority of MPS high school students study at a university following completion of their senior year. Even if the New Tech program and its modern computerized methods of teaching were effective, which there does not appear to be any conclusive evidence of, graduated students would be incredibly unprepared to learn in college. Essential skills for that level such as note taking, listening and paying attention would be foreign concepts. These are developed in straightforward classrooms and not through a reliance on technology, which actually worsens them. One of MPS’ trademarks is producing scholars that are ready to succeed in higher learning settings. If the New Tech program were to be introduced, that characteristic would be in severe jeopardy.
Some technology in schools is beneficial. Recent additions of Moodle teacher pages and Home Access Center as resources to students and staff have confirmed this. They have been very positive for the learning experience in terms of keeping students connected. Technology definitely has a place in education, but it should not completely take over from conventional methods, as it would in a New Tech school. A learning environment consisting of a combination of the two styles, which MPS currently provides, is optimal.
Also, if there is somehow enough spare money floating around to pay for such a revolutionary project, many other more useful things should be given priority. Adding real walls to classrooms instead of carpeted barriers through which other classes’ noises are completely audible would be a start. This would eliminate a lot of distractions that take place during the hour and allow students to actually be able to hear what their teacher is saying. In addition, renovated restroom facilities that aren’t so disgusting should be upgraded ahead of New Tech.
In all seriousness though, the notion that converting one of MPS’ buildings into a New Tech facility would better the quality of education the district provides is absurd. As testing scores have indicated, students being produced are some of the brightest in the state. What the district is doing is working and has been for a long time. Integrating some technological elements is fine, but a proposition to overhaul everything and begin anew can’t be taken seriously. People are often too anxious to change. In this situation, BOE members should just take a step back and realize what they have. There is no logical reason for spending boatloads of money for a worse education.