School Talk

Parents Say There’s Too Much Screen Time in Their Children’s Classrooms

The Wall Street Journal recently published a piece about the pushback from parents when it comes to the overuse of technology in their children’s classrooms. Obviously when a school district invests millions of dollars on technology in their schools, they are hesitant to validate the criticism, let alone walk back their decisions. But it is not surprising that parents find themselves frustrated at a time that the battle over screens is already sucking up so much of their energy and mental bandwidth. It can be annoying—and even alarming— to hear that our children spend their days in school on screens and then see them plugged into their devices at home to get their homework done.  

The parental battle over screen time becomes much harder when the school insists that students spend hours each night working on screens. 

One of my children attends a school that issues a Chromebook to every 6th grader with the expectation that they keep until graduation. All of their assignments show up in Google Classroom and they complete almost all of their assignments on the chromebook. Many of their textbooks are electronic so even when they are consulting a chapter in their “textbook”, they are doing it staring at a screen. All of their written work is submitted through Google Classroom and with the exception of math problems often done in a workbook, a parent is forced to discern if their student is really even doing school work when they are sitting at the kitchen table or on the couch, clicking away on their laptop.

There is mounting research that students—and people more generally—retain less when they read on a screen. 

I suspect that the concern and pushback coming from parents largely centers around the amount of time their children spend attached a digital devices and not as much about what the research says in terms of student outcomes. But they’d be right to ask questions about that as well. Regardless of what the tech giants and personalized learning peddlers may claim, there is no clear evidence showing that these tech related education strategies are bearing fruit in terms of student achievement.

According to reporting from the Wall Street Journal, parents in cities parents across the country are beginning to demand proof that the technology has educational value tool and some are even pushing schools to offer low or screen-free classrooms. They picket board meetings and also want to know what data about their children is being collected. 

We may be headed to a place where technology usage begins to play a much more prominent role in parent demand for school choice and greater educational freedom.

One mother from Baltimore County, who is also a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins, describes her first grader’s math homework as resembling a video game. She worries about the “hyper-stimulating screen time and thinks that her children have been part of a “massive experiment” over which she has no control.

Dr. Boyd seems to express with so many of us parents feel — that there is a role for technology in school but it is a matter of how much and what age. Like so many parents, she is able to rattle off benefits of the technology usage of her older sons but she is also concerned about the constant connection between academics, learning, and staring at a screen. Dr. Boyd has switched her older children to a private school that is less technology intensive and, because of the school her elementary aged daughter attends has begun to make changes around technology usage, she has kept her where she is. 

Much of what Dr. Boyd describes holds true for me as well when I put on my mom hat. While my children are doing homework on the computer, they often have multiple tabs open and are constantly tempted by the knowledge that they are just a click away from YouTube, video games, or any binge worthy show on Netflix. For a highly disciplined child, this may not present a problem but for a less disciplined and more distractible student, this can be a nightmare.

Technology is obviously not going anywhere and most of us rely on it to get through our day and to do our jobs. It has a role to play in classrooms and schools. The problem is that for many students, there is no break from it. They are on their chromebooks, laptops and iPads most if not all of the school day, they are on their devices at home in order to complete homework, and then, for many, their recreation time is often on screens as well. Add to that their reliance on their phones to communicate and make plans with friends and they are spending virtually all of their waking hours “plugged in.” 

One veteran teacher from Dallas teacher puts it in pretty terrifying terms—”they are being mentally crippled by these things.”

So many parents, if we’re honest, can likely relate to the concern about being constantly plugged in—many of us are out of balance with our own tech. So it’s no surprise that parents are raising their voices and pushing back on what they see as an overuse of tech in their children’s classrooms.  

Parents have their work cut out for them as they push back on the tech overlords—but an army of informed parents worried about their children is a powerful force. It would be unwise to underestimate them. 

What do you think?

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