In an effort to increase test scores in math and reading in so-called “struggling” schools, numerous intervention programs are purchased on our behalf. So many programs are layered on top of each other that it becomes nearly impossible to carefully consider them all.
Although relatively expensive, the cheapest and most efficient interventions tend to be school licenses for personalized learning software. Use of these programs make leadership think they’re actually doing something. Additionally, usage and performance data, accessible from any computer, can give central office personal an easy way to track schools, and something on which to hold them accountable when they fail.
When my students’ usage for a particular software program is not up to snuff, I hear about it. Then, if my students do not meet certain benchmarks, it can be easily attributed to the low number of minutes using the software. If only I could use the program with “fidelity,” we’d be much better off.
Companies don’t understand, however, that implementation is also part of their program. Don’t always blame the teacher for infidelity. Maybe it’s also that the program sucks. Seriously. If my usage is low, what I’m typically told to do is use it more. Why can’t you use it more, what’s the problem? But my feelings about the program are not considered. Just use it more, all right?
My Kindergarten students don’t enjoy using personalized learning software, and I don’t enjoy having them use it. Their computer literacy skills are not where they need to be to be able to log in, stay logged in, and refrain from right clicking when they should only left click. Windows get closed and headphones get tangled. Any chunk of time spent in a computer lab is not worthwhile. I don’t teach in ways that the software “teaches” students. I don’t really use the software myself so I don’t really have a firm grasp of what it’s supposed to do.
But if these software peddlers really want to have successful programs, they need to do more than just write the software and be done with it. The effectiveness of any program should also include how easy it is to use on a school-wide basis. If it can’t be used, then it shouldn’t be used. Schools like ours cobble together educational technology. We have first, but mainly second, hand hardware. Most of it is “housed” in a single computer lab, which is now a pretty outmoded form of technology usage.
If too many logistical hurdles exist to use software appropriately, then it might also be an indicator that a program sucks. If a school cannot adequately pool resources, plan and schedule use of a single lab for hundreds of students, then it’s not always the teacher’s fault that fidelity is not achieved. Pressuring teachers to keep up usage data will inevitably take away from other, more important activities. And for every 30 minutes I get my students to use the software, we’re likely only getting about 10 actual minutes of usage because of logistical challenges.
So don’t get on my case about fidelity. Success of a program doesn’t begin and end with the software. It depends on a lot of other facts that don’t get addressed, and are largely out of my control.