This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
A majority of Utahns are right that the state doesn't have to run out and buy a computer for every school kid. But, make no mistake, it won't be long before every school kid sits at a computer.
A poll of 989 registered voters commissioned by the Salt Lake Tribune and the Hinckley Institute of Politics asked if the state should buy a computer for every student. Only 34 percent thought that was a good idea, and 53 percent thought it wasn't.
Technology is a lightning rod in education. Some view it as a savior, and others view it as a false savior. In fact, it's neither. It's a necessity. The question isn't whether schools will embrace technology. It's how.
Sen. Howard Stephenson has pushed for more educational technology for years, but he said he also would have answered no to the poll question because "it's not about the device."
He's right. There are plenty of examples in Utah and elsewhere where the acquisition of technology did not line up with acquisition of technological expertise. When that happens, the computers are under-used, or not used at all.
Stephenson sponsored legislation last year, called "Essential Education," to create a $100 million fund that school districts can tap for technology initiatives, with another $50 million per year after that to maintain or expand those initiatives. School districts apply for grants from the fund. That lets districts tailor to their own needs, including software and training in addition to machines.
But it also sets up a bonanza for over-promising tech vendors who prey on districts' willingness to take a chance with the state's cash. If the initiative is to succeed, it will take blunt, independent analysis of those early vendors. (Short-term contracts are a must.)
For its part, the Utah Education Association sees the initiative as just one more example of diverting resources away from teachers. That is a reasonable suspicion, given the disdain Stephenson and other legislators have shown UEA and its teachers over the years. If those legislators think computers are the answer to our oversized, underfunded classrooms, Utah will fall further behind.
But UEA's leadership makes a serious misjudgment when it tries to pit technology against teachers. This is not an either/or proposition. Utah will need both modern technology and the teachers sophisticated enough to make the most of it to their students' benefit.
We're in a competitive environment. The winners will be the ones who maximize both the human and the technological components of learning.