Analysis: Detroit schools think netbooks will fix education problem

These days everyone seems to think improved technology means progress. So will giving netbooks to students and teachers in Detroit improve education for students in one of the worst school districts in the country?

Detroit Public Schools (DPS) thinks so. In February they are going to begin their massive technology infusion by giving every student in grades 6-12, and every teacher in the district access to an ASUS Eee netbook.


According to The Detroit News, Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb said last Tuesday that the $49.4 million investment in classroom technology upgrades was necessary for students to compete in a global market.


“This will open our classrooms to the world,” he said to The News, talking to students and staff at the Benjamin O. Davis Jr. Aerospace Technical High School. “We are moving Detroit Public Schools into the new millennium, and students no longer will have barriers to technology.”

How can students think about competing globally when, thanks to their teachers, the majority of them cannot even spell the word “globally”?


Where will the netbooks, AKA stage one of the massive tech infusion come from? Not surprisingly they will come from federal stimulus funds because like everywhere else across the nation, local money is almost nonexistent.


The district is also reportedly planning on buying more than 5,000 desktop computers and printer/scanners for every classroom in the district. Additionally, 533 HP desktop computers were bought for the 138 early childhood classrooms in the district.


In December teachers received their netbooks and were trained on how to use them.


The school board president Anthony Adams told The News that the netbooks are a giant leap forward.


“If Detroit Public Schools are all about the cutting edge, then this technology purchase today represents a critical part in how we educate kids,” he said.


To the untrained eye it appears that Detroit is finally doing something about their horrible school district. And surely all of the fuss about netbooks is giving the district some much needed positive press.


But if spending money fixed problems in public education then the worst school districts in the nation would actually be the best. That’s because as economist Walter E. Williams writes, the worst school districts typically spend the most money per student, like the Washington, D.C. school district, yet produce students with some of the worst test score in the country. Detroit is not much different in this regard.


Here we have the Detroit government spending massive amounts of cash on stage one of a technology scheme that they are selling to taxpayers as a way for students to compete globally. It sounds nice, but it won’t do anything to fix the problem DPS has, specifically the quality of education the students receive.


There is no proof that suggests spending money is the way to fix inner-city schools. Williams has written about this topic as well, and he states that in the past the best inner-city schools were usually underfunded, yet produced exemplary students (like Thurgood Marshall).


Technology, as much we obsess over it, it not a cure-all solution to problems in education. The kids in DPS aren’t getting a good education; they aren’t even learning the bare minimum let alone anything useful. Introducing netbooks into this situation won’t fix anything; until the foundation of their education improves the netbooks will just be a convenient distraction.


Netbooks cannot educate the kids in Detroit; only DPS teachers can do that. Sure a netbook is like a window to the world’s knowledge, but if teachers don’t teach kids why that’s important, they won’t use it that way. They’ll use it for trivial things until their teachers find a way to arouse their intellectual curiosity.


Until DPS does something to fight the control of teacher unions, asinine bureaucrats and No Child Left Behind, Detroit parents should not expect the schools to get better. In the worst school districts in the country, technology upgrades are similar to salt in a wound.