STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

What's the right way to bring technology into the classroom?

Online education is controversial. There’s disagreement on how much technology should be used in the classroom with some arguing the entire classroom should be flipped and kids should be learning solely through online tools. Online course enrollment has seen a 21% growth in the past year, so I want to investigate how some of these online tools can supplement, not replace, the classroom setting.


Like many of the other issues I’ve written about for State of Opportunity, there’s a big issue here: access. Two of the factors that can make online education successful in this study are access to technology and previous experience with technology. Online education will always favor those who are more effective online. Kids who don’t have a history of using computers might not find as much success online.


Corey Pena is a teacher at Stockbridge Community Schools. Stockbridge uses a supplemental tool called Study Island, which is used to assess students and build test-taking skills. “I can go in and create assignments and assessments for individual students and set time frames for their completion,” Pena said.


Study Island offers lessons and assessments on math, language arts, social studies and science in Common Core and in GLCE. Every question is multiple choice, reflecting the standardized tests it prepares students for, and it features a mode where correct answers are rewarded with a short game.


Stockbridge also uses a program called Education City for the younger (first and second grade) students. Education City focuses on project-based learning and, after trying both Study Island and Education city, I can attest that it is much more engaging than multiple choice. Rather than choosing an answer out of a list, a student may need to build a chart based on data about muffin flavor preferences by dragging or clicking on small pictures of muffins.


In Michigan, the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) assumed operation of the bottom 5% performing schools in Detroit. The EAA offers an individualized learning model for its students, harnessing many online tools due to their innate individualized and self-paced qualities.


Some say it may be too early to tell if the EAA is succeeding, but others call it a failed experiment. This doesn’t mean that online tools in education have failed. Part of what people might reject to is that EAA has an over-reliance on these online tools. The school system set out to use these online tools and individualized learning to help the low-performing kids, but those tools alone are not enough.

In all, education is not simply about the goals, tests and curriculums. Kids learn so much more from the experience of traditional school. Pena sums up what she feels the conventional school provides: “It’s getting up every day and the discipline. It’s life skills.”

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