The importance of diction: Why RSS is important and Why I hate the media

April 9, 2007

So in trying to take advantage of the Easter weekend and a couple of days away from the classroom I am trying to catch up on some current event reading. A side note, completely off topic, we have a couple of extra days because of not using our bad weather days and I saw snow flurries while I was cleaning up my yard. I live in Texas and it is April here. Anyway, in reading my current events I started with those I have most recently neglected. One of the reasons why I like using my Netvibes account and RSS subscriptions when reading the news is so I can compare what different media outlets deem is important and how they express this news. In read the lists of education articles one from CNN stood out first. The head line read “Study: No benefit going high-tech for math and reading”. As someone interested in promoting the benefits of technology in education I immediately stopped my browsing to read the article. To the credit of the unknown AP writer, the source of the study and unbiased reporting on the study appeared in the article. Unfortunately the headline completely misrepresented the study. One lesson my statistics professor at KU, Prof Mark Joslyn, ingrained in my undergraduate studies was to look beyond the simple numbers. Always keeping that lesson in mind I looked up the study referenced in the article.

In reading the executive summary the first item that struck me was the lack of the use of the word “benefit.” Now remember the AP writer’s headline says “no benefit” exists. However, the executive report does not use that word once. I know what you are saying, “it must be in the full report, but I do not have time to read the full report.” Neither do I, but Adobe has a great search tool and by using this tool I was able to locate the one time that the full report uses the word benefit. This use is only to note the “benefit” of an end of year exam in assessing subject matter. So now I began to wonder if the AP writer even read this report.

Giving the AP writer the benefit of the doubt, I suspended my knowledge of this search and assumed that the AP writer lacks proper vocabulary skills that comes with reading and also does not know another word for benefit. In continuing to feed my curiosity I read the executive summary. In reading I kept noticing that the report notes that no statistical change resulted after one year on using educational software. Then I realized the CNN article cites that the “effectiveness of education technology” was the focus of the study. So I re-read the report by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance and realized that the report does not evaluate educational technology, rather educational software. Again, I gave the AP reporter some slack on vocabulary usage. After all viewers of the NBC series Friends will recall when Joey went crazy with the thesaurus button and boasted about Chandler and Monica’s full-sized aortic pumps.

Unfortunately for the AP writer the bubble holding my leniency burst when I got to the page outlining the Summary of the Study. Item three notes a clear benefit of such software. In bold print it says, “When Products Were Being Used, Students Were More Likely to Engage in Individual Practice and Teachers Were More Likely to Facilitate Student Learning Rather Than Lecture.” Seriously? Could this be a benefit the AP writer clearly stated does not exist. You mean a study by an organization who’s mission is to evaluate educational statistics and “encourage evidence-based approach to education”, as noted on the NCEE’s brochure, says that educational software does not decrease test scores, but rather increases individual learning and some schmuck from the AP wire who does not even get to cite his or her name does not see this as a benefit.

It is too bad that this writer grew-up up prior to the availability of such software, because maybe then he or she would have developed a better vocabulary and maybe would have learned how to work individually rather than rely on what someone tells him or her to be fact.

On a side note, the Washington Post also reported on this study and did a better job of using vocabulary. However, this article briefly mentions the note of individualized learning and it fails to mention the name of the study or the organization responsibly for it. I do not count citing the DOE since technically the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance which is a subset of the Institute of Education Sciences which is a subset of the DOE. The focus of this article appears to be less on the benefits or the outcome of the study and more on the possible corruption and waste of money by school districts. I have an idea, stop by my classroom and I can demonstrate the benefits of technology and I will not waste the money spent on this study.

Feel free to leave your comment on this posting. I wish I could say you could do the same to the AP writer, but no such ability exists on CNN’s webpage.