In Texas, the law requires schools to integrate technology into lesson in every curricular area in grades K-8. Period. The law is the law.
And after 8th grade, it is assumed that all grades in all content areas 9-12 will just continue the work of their K-8 colleagues and integrate technology into almost all lessons as the students should be “technologically literate” by the end of 8th grade.
Required by law you say? How can that be true? Well, since 1996 Texas has written education technology into the state standards of education. These standards are called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) are written for every single course taught in the state, from Algebra to Physics, to Yearbook.
Just as schools are required by law to teach students to read, multiply and divide, to understand the genres of literature, and the branches of government, they are also required to teach students how to properly use computers to complete assignments, keyboarding skills, communicate with others and other skills.
The TEKS for technology are called the “Technology Application TEKS” and have been, almost since their inception in 1996, largely ignored to the point where most teachers in grades K-8 could not name a single one of the six strands that make up the TEKS:
- Be creative and innovative,
- Communicate and collaborate
- Research information
- Think critically, problem solve and make decisions
- Be good digital citizens
- Know the proper technology tools, concepts and applications to use
Common throughout all of these “strands’ are students creating digital products using digital tools. Students should not be using computers as glorified typewriters. Indeed, according to the law, the TEKS, our students should be creating products and learning how to problem solve, communicate with each other and post work online as early as Kindergarten.
Let that sink in for a minute. Are your children doing that at school? By 8th grade, they should be creating products with a variety tools, working collaboratively with each other both in and outside of their school, working with mentors online, as well as be experts in word processing, spreadsheets, databases and presentation software, saving work online, and solving complex problems using online data,.
The K-8 Technology TEKS are unique set of state standards in that there is no single course attributed to them. Unlike say, English Language Arts, or Mathematics which have their own specific set of standards, the Technology TEKS are outside of any single curricular area, yet are supposed to be taught in all of them.
There are references, obliquely, in almost every single set of standards for almost every single other course, but they are not “required,” giving teachers and administrators an out by saying something like “The student may;” That means the student may NOT as well. Thus, they get swept under the proverbial academic rug, when it comes to curriculum.
No content area says the K-8 Technology TEKS belong “to them” thus many teachers and schools assume some other course or grade level will teach them, giving them the wrong impression that they can ignoring technology completely. “That which isn’t tested isn’t taught” the old saying goes, and since Technology is a tool not a curriculum per se, it is ignored.
The mantra of “They will learn that in Middle School” has been used by some to completely ignore technology in almost all elementary grade levels at some schools. Sadly, many of our students do not “learn that in middle school.”
Because of this game of “TEKS hot potato,” the Technology TEKS are simply ignored in many cases. Even in districts that have some sort of digital initiative where students receive laptops or tablets, there are no real incentives for teachers to include them in lessons unless they are somehow self-motivated to do so.
Almost all school districts in the state of Texas pay for and use the Texas Resource System or TRS (https://www.teksresourcesystem.net), to provide suggestions and structure for teachers in all of the “core” academic courses.
TRS is used in over 80% of Texas school districts (including all of the local districts save Ft. Hancock) to provide a year long structure for courses, yet one would be extremely hard pressed to find a single instance where the TRS incorporates the Technology TEKS into their “instructional focus documents.”
Even the “standards authority” of the TEKS Resource System, which is a commercial product that districts rely on to provide guidance with what your child is taught, essentially seems to give a pass on the Technology TEKS and leaves it up to the individual teacher whether or not technology is taught and used in the classroom.
Consider this: ONE of the many skills that an 8th graders should be leaving middle school with according to the state law: “Students should be able to…create and manage personal learning networks to collaborate and publish with peers, experts, or others using digital tools such as blogs, wikis, audio/video communication, or other emerging technologies…”
That is just a single example.
If you had a child in 8th grade in any public school in Texas since 1996, they should have had that skill (among many others) before they left for high school. Did they? Have they? Will they?
If teaching what the law requires wasn’t enough of an incentive, the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS), the statewide method districts evaluate teachers, specifically mentions integrating technology in classroom lessons. A teacher simply cannot move up the “T-TESS Rubric” without properly using technology in the classroom.
The T-TESS is neither grade nor course specific, thus the state expects all teachers in all courses in all classes to integrate technology into lessons. (Integration means what the students are using digital devices for, not what the teacher is using.)
Of course it is up to each district to provide the tools to students and train teachers, but frankly, it is 100% up to the teacher whether or not technology is integrated into lessons. Even in 2019, twenty years into the 21st century, there are teachers who refuse to use available technology or incorporate it into lessons.
That is unacceptable, illegal, and educational malpractice no matter the reason.
Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.
Feel free to leave a comment. Read his previous columns here.