Education Week - September 7, 2016 - 8
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS > Tracking news and ideas in educational technology
Parent Group Sees Education Technology 'Threats'
What's the big message you hope to get across to parents?
We think parents need to be much more vigilant about what's happening in schools around
digital technology, and we think schools need to be more accountable for what technology they
use and whether it is valuable.
What are some of your speciﬁc concerns?
When ed-tech proponents start calling it "student-centered learning" or "personalized
learning," that raises a red ﬂag, because it's really totally the opposite. Most parents think
personalized learning means a teacher paying more attention to their child. But what it
increasingly means in schools is digital classrooms, bigger class sizes, and curriculum being fed
through a company's software program. It's sneaky.
I also think with screen time parents see how that impacts their own children. It's really
not that different from television. Most parents think their children should be doing less on
screens. They need to be responsible for that at home, but schools need to be responsible as
well, rather than just throwing devices and packaged curricula at students.
Some see Parents Across America's stance as well outside the mainstream. Groups
like the National PTA, for example, "believe students must have access to digital
devices and the Internet to engage in 21st-century learning."
AN INFLUENTIAL PARENT-ADVOCACY GROUP THAT HAS VOCALLY OPPOSED HIGH-STAKES
testing, the Common Core State Standards, and charter school expansion has its sights on a new target: education technology.
Parents Across America, a nonproﬁt group with 44 chapters across
25 states, last month issued a set of resources warning of the "threats"
posed by the explosion of digital- and online-technology use in schools,
including rising screen time for children, increased testing and data
collection, and what the group views as misguided teaching strategies
based on low-quality digital products.
Although the group says it supports "appropriate" use of technology
in schools, its recommendations include such controversial suggestions
as "no in-school screen time before 3rd grade" and "no 1-to-1 devices
before high school."
Roughly half of American K-12 students now have access to their
own school-issued mobile-computing devices, according to FutureSource Consulting, a United Kingdom-based research group. A
nationwide 2015 poll of parents commissioned by the nonproﬁt Data
Quality Campaign (which advocates greater data use in schools),
meanwhile, found that parents overwhelmingly want access to
information on such issues as their children's academic performance
Some prominent research and children's-media groups see Parents
Across America's stance as alarmist. They express concern that the
group is giving renewed attention to some questionable research,
including one widely discredited study calling for no screen time at all
for children younger than 12.
Parents are "absolutely right to call into question many of the overheated claims for ed tech's beneﬁts," said Michael Levine, the executive
director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, a New
York City-based research center. But, Levine said, "all screens are not
created equal. There is a huge difference between video chatting with
grandma and being left alone to play ﬁrst-person-shooter games."
Launched in 2010, Parents Across America is run on a small annual
budget, with funding provided in part by a foundation associated with
the Chicago Teachers Union. Despite its size and lack of structure, the
group and some of its leaders have had a big impact: The standardizedtesting opt-out movement they have helped support has gained considerable traction in recent years, and parent-activist concerns about
student-data privacy played a huge role in the demise of inBloom, a
massive student-data-warehouse project started with $100 million in
support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie
Corporation of New York (both of which provide support to Education
Julie Woestehoff, who has a 3-year-old grandson and a history of
parent activism dating back more than 20 years, is Parents Across
America's current interim executive director. She spoke by phone with
Education Week about her group's concerns.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. -BENJAMIN HEROLD
We think parents should be alarmed. They already are alarmed. We are not making that up. These
are real dangers. We start there. I don't apologize for that.
I've done this work for 25 years and counting. When we ﬁrst started
protesting high-stakes testing in the late 1990s, people would say,
"Well, there are always going to be tests." It's the same thing now with
technology. Parents need to wake up to the fact that the push behind
ed tech is not a benign force trying to bring children into the digital age.
That is something that the PTA will not acknowledge, and you just need
to look at their funding sources to understand why.
There is also concern that your perspective is not
representative of the beliefs of many low-income parents and
parents of color. A survey by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at
Sesame Workshop, for example, found that low-income parents
felt strongly that technology could help prepare their children
for important tests at school.
We clearly have a progressive take on education. We don't represent all
parents, but we are a multiracial, multicultural group. All parents need
more information about this situation. It's new to a lot of white middle-class
parents as well.
What do you think appropriate technology use in school looks like?
There need to be very strict limits on what kind of screens are being
With Parents Across America's
used, and parents need to be much more involved. We support proper
interim executive director,
use of technology in a limited manner, as long it allows for teachers to be
in control of their classroom and allows parents to protect their children
and allows children to have a healthy physical environment, with good,
strong relationships. Those are the things that make a good school. We
see digital learning as undermining that.
Nobody has all the answers, but parents should be able to ﬁnd out
what devices and software programs their kids are using in school. It's so basic, but most
parents are not given that information.
Parents should also be able to get answers to questions like, "How is this enhancing education?
What kind of research and track record do these programs have?" It's the same kinds of
questions we encourage parents to ask about standardized testing and [the Common Core
Parents Across America has actively opposed what you describe as the "corporate
reform" agenda, including common core, standardized testing, test-based teacher
evaluation, and charter school expansion. To what extent are your warnings about
education technology and personalized learning an extension of those ﬁghts?
Just look who is behind it all. Look who is selling the merchandise. It's still Pearson, still Bill
Gates and his foundation, still all the same usual suspects. We're just peeling back the layers and
trying to show parents what's behind the hard sell. ■
We support proper use of technology in a limited manner, as long it allows for teachers to be in control of their
classroom and allows parents to protect their children and allows children to have a healthy physical environment."
8 | EDUCATION WEEK | September 7, 2016 | www.edweek.org
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - September 7, 2016
Education Week - September 7, 2016
Are Dual-Enrollment Programs Being Oversold?
Inclusive Classes Have Downsides, Researchers Find
For New Kindergartners, a Whirlwind Introduction
Tax Boosts to Aid K-12 Up for Vote
News in Brief
Amid Shortage Fears, States Ease Teacher-Licensing Rules
Rating Materials for Reading
Longer Day, Year Required for Many Head Start Programs
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Parent Group Sees Education Technology ‘Threats’
Draft ESSA Funding Rules Unveiled
Trump Taps Indiana Lawmaker’s Staffer To Craft Plan on School Choice
Amid School-Closure Worries, Mich. Lists Low-Performers
NICHOLAS C. DONOHUE: Don’t Fix High Schools, Transform Them
BARBARA DUFFIELD: How ESSA May Help Homeless Students
NITA LOWEY: ‘Books, Not Bullets’
T opSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
ALFIE KOHN: Bullying the Bully
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - Tax Boosts to Aid K-12 Up for Vote
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - 2
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - Contents
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - News in Brief
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - 5
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - Rating Materials for Reading
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - Longer Day, Year Required for Many Head Start Programs
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Parent Group Sees Education Technology ‘Threats’
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - 9
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - 10
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - 11
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - 12
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - 13
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - 14
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - Trump Taps Indiana Lawmaker’s Staffer To Craft Plan on School Choice
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - Amid School-Closure Worries, Mich. Lists Low-Performers
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - 17
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - BARBARA DUFFIELD: How ESSA May Help Homeless Students
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - NITA LOWEY: ‘Books, Not Bullets’
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - Letters
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - 21
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - T opSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - 23
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - ALFIE KOHN: Bullying the Bully
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - CT1
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - CT2
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - CT3
Education Week - September 7, 2016 - CT4