Tuesday, September 21, 2010

the school of hard drives

NYTimes | This interview is for a special issue on education and technology, so let me start by asking you about computers in classrooms. As the secretary of education, do you think every kid in America needs a computer?
I think every student needs access to technology, and I think technology can be a hugely important vehicle to help level the playing field. Whether it’s in an inner-city school or a rural community, I want those students to have a chance to take A.P. biology and A.P. physics and marine biology.

What does that have to do with having a computer?
We have thousands of students today taking online classes. We actually have virtual schools today.

How horrible. How can you compare the experience of acquiring knowledge from a beloved high-school teacher to acquiring information from a machine?
There are schools that don’t have a beloved high-school teacher to teach A.P. physics. That’s what I’m talking about.

Did you see the study that showed that the only category in which American students remain No. 1 is self-esteem? We have great confidence in ourselves, even if our competence has declined.
As a country, we have dropped. The brutal truth is that we have fallen from first to ninth in the world in the percentage of college graduates in a generation.

Which country has the highest percentage of college graduates?
South Korea is one that I watch very closely. South Korea, Japan, Canada, New Zealand and Norway are the top five.

Have you seen the new film “Waiting for Superman,” a documentary opening this week that makes public education in this country seem totally dysfunctional?
I did. I think it’s going to help the country to understand the tremendous sense of urgency that I feel. We have parents who know their child is getting a subpar education. That is devastating to them and ultimately it’s devastating to our country.