At least 36 schools nationwide are combining teacher-led lessons with computer-based lectures and exercises based on Salman Khan’s popular YouTube lessons.
CHICAGO—Scores of preschool and kindergarten teachers across the city are embedding math concepts into daily classroom activities, in a promising new program that gives students a foundation for more complex math and logical-thinking skills in later grades.
Teacher Jennifer Flynn incorporates math concepts in her preschool class at Lovett Elementary School in Chicago.
The Early Mathematics Education Project at Erikson Institute, a nonprofit graduate school in child development, has already trained about 300 Chicago preschool and kindergarten teachers at 150 schools, funded by grants from local foundations and Chicago Public Schools.
Chicago-based Erikson recently got a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to offer the training to 111 teachers from preschool to third grade at eight more Chicago schools and to study the program's effectiveness.
At Lovett Elementary School, where the preschool teacher adopted the new methods, math instruction is omnipresent, if not always apparent. It's there where 4-year-old Jasmine Wilson arranges four Popsicle sticks into a zigzag pattern under the number "4." It shows up when Cedric Carter mimics the teacher's syncopated clapping pattern. And it appears when students join a growing line of characters from "The Gingerbread Man" to chase Anasia Simmons around the room.
The children don't realize it, but they are learning fundamental math concepts such as connecting numerals to quantity, building patterns, and the idea that adding something, or someone, creates a larger number.
Evidence is mounting about the importance of teaching math in preschool and kindergarten. Research has shown that if children don't have good instruction and effective teachers in early grades, they are more likely to struggle later when they face more complicated concepts. This is especially true for low-income children, who often arrive at school behind academically.
U.S. elementary-school children have shown slow but steady progress on national math exams. However U.S. 15-year-olds were 25th among 34 developed countries on a 2009 international math exam, a ranking that has remained stagnant since 2000, when the exam was first given.
At Chicago's Lovett Elementary, where 93% of students come from low-income families, preschool teacher Jennifer Flynn said that when she began teaching eight years ago, she taught math on a very "surface level," making sure students knew such things as counting to 100 and creating patterns.
"Now I work to make them mathematical thinkers and I want them to be able to tell me 'why' and 'how' they know things," said Ms. Flynn, who completed the Erikson math program two years ago. "My students are far more engaged and are more successful in kindergarten."
A study Erikson conducted found that students of teachers enrolled in its math program showed, on average, three to five months additional progress in math, compared with students whose teachers were on the waiting list to get into the program. Children who started the school year far behind in math made the most progress.
Jie-Qi Chen, an Erikson professor who helped develop the project, said proper math instruction helps students develop reasoning and logical thinking skills—cognitive building blocks that prepare them to learn any subject. But she said early math gains in preschool can "wash out" if teachers in elementary grades don't know how to teach it. And unlike reading, she said, which requires little explicit instruction after a certain level, "math cannot be fully grasped without assistance from a well-trained teacher."
A 2007 study by Erikson Institute showed that 21% of Chicago preschool and kindergarten teachers taught math on any given day, while 96% taught language arts.
Early-education teachers rarely receive more than one semester in math instruction in college. "A lot of them are math phobic," said Jeanine Brownell, assistant director of programming for Early Mathematics.
With the $5 million, five-year grant, Erikson's new math project will put teachers in the eight schools through a weeklong summer training program. The teachers will also get six training sessions during the year and meet with coaches who will observe them in the classroom and provide feedback. Erikson officials will work with the schools to help build a culture of strong math instruction.
Jennifer McCray, project director of Early Mathematics, said the program focuses on how to teach mathematical thinking, rather than basic math procedures. Instead of learning, for example, to recognize the numeral 4 and that it comes between 3 and 5, Erikson wants students to understand that "4" represents a quantity and has meaning. After Jasmine put the four Popsicle sticks into a Z pattern, Ms. Flynn prompted her to rearrange them into another shape, proving that no matter how the stick were arranged, they still represent the quantity "4."
Stephen Brown, a kindergarten teacher at Gale Math and Science Academy on Chicago's Far North Side who is currently enrolled in the Erikson math program, said he has learned to infuse math in virtually every lesson. "They've helped me understand how a 5-year-old brain thinks and helped me connect my teaching to what numbers mean in their world," he said.
In Ms. Flynn's class at Lovett, math lessons are part of storytime, puzzle time, just about any time of the day. Four-year-old Anaisa wasn't sure what "The Gingerbread Man" lesson was aimed to teach, but when asked if it was math, she scrunched her eyebrows together and said, "No, it was fun."
THE DWINDLING POWER OF A COLLEGE DEGREE
Until the early 1970s, less than 11 percent of the adult population graduated from college, and most of them could get a decent job. Today nearly a third have college degrees, and a higher percentage of them graduated from nonelite schools. A bachelor's degree on its own no longer conveys intelligence and capability. To get a good job, you have to have some special skill - charm, by the way, counts - that employers value. But there's also a pretty good chance that by some point in the next few years, your boss will find that some new technology or some worker overseas can replace you. The article was in The New York Times Magazine.
WHY STANFORD ONLINE HIGH SCHOOL MATTERS
Sunday’s New York Times story broke the news that Stanford University, one of the world’s most prestigious research institutions, is putting its brand squarely behind a full-time, degree-granting online high school program. It’s just one more reason to set aside the silly debate about whether online education can possibly be effective for high school students. Stanford’s move is significant. But, unless it goes further, Stanford University Online High School is still just a small, selective program for gifted students. This post is from the Quick and the Ed.
PALO ALTO, Calif. — In June, about 30 seniors will graduate from a little-known online high school currently called the Education Program for Gifted Youth. But their diplomas will bear a different name: Stanford Online High School.
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Yes, that Stanford — the elite research university known for producing graduates who win Nobels and found Googles, not for teaching basic algebra to teenagers. Five years after the opening of the experimental program, some education experts consider Stanford’s decision to attach its name to the effort a milestone for online education.
“This is significant,” said Bill Tucker, managing director of Education Sector, a nonpartisan policy institute. “One of our country’s most prestigious universities feels comfortable putting its considerable prestige and brand behind it.”
As the line between virtual and classroom-based learning continues to blur, some see Stanford’s move as a sign that so, too, will the line between secondary and higher education. Several other universities — though none with the pedigree of Stanford — already operate online high schools, a development that has raised some questions about expertise and motives.
“From my perspective, colleges, concentrate on what you’re good at,” said Ronald A. Crutcher, president of Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., who added that he had recently declined an offer from a for-profit education company to join other small liberal arts institutions in forming an online high school in their image. “Be consultants, but don’t contribute to a trend that I think has some real problems.”
About 275,000 students nationwide are enrolled full time in online schools, according to Susan Patrick, president of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, a nonprofit advocacy group. Most of these are free public charter schools, but colleges — private and public — have begun to get into the business as well.
The University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and the University of Missouri have awarded diplomas to about 250 and 85 students, respectively, annually for the last several years. The George Washington University Online High School opened in January.
Capitalizing on its reputation in foreign language instruction, Middlebury College in Vermont last year worked with K12, a for-profit company, to develop online high school language courses serving 50,000 students nationwide. An individual student’s course costs $749 per year, and Middlebury will share the profits. Ronald Liebowitz, Middlebury’s president, said that while “it looks like mission creep beyond belief,” the opportunity to raise revenue carried the decision.
“The risk is great, and I’d be silly if I said otherwise,” Mr. Liebowitz said of lending Middlebury’s name to a program whose teachers are not affiliated with the college. But, he noted, “we could have millions of dollars coming into the operating budget, which eases the burden of other revenue streams — mainly tuition and other fees. It’s a for-profit venture.”
Ms. Patrick said the typical online high school student lives in a remote area, was previously home-schooled or is deeply involved in an extracurricular activity that is incompatible with traditional schooling.
In this growing market, Stanford Online High School aims to be the destination for the most talented students. About 20 percent of the current 120 students receive financial aid to offset the $14,800 tuition, which is about half the average private-school tuition nationwide but far more than the University of Nebraska program’s $2,500. About 300 more students take one or more $3,200-per-year classes to supplement a bricks-and-mortar program.
Stanford officials said that the online high school had not yet yielded a profit, but that if it did, the money would be used for high school financial aid, not for the wider institution.
There is no entrance exam, but a college-like application requires essays, letters of recommendation and standardized test scores. About 70 percent of the applicants were accepted this year, a far cry from Stanford University’s 7.3 percent acceptance rate in 2010-11.
Of the high school’s 75 graduates, 69 so far have enrolled directly in four-year colleges, according to Raymond Ravaglia, the high school’s executive director. Eight attend Stanford, and 25 others are at Ivy League institutions or other elite campuses.
“I don’t see this for a second competing with quality high schools, but for some people this could be an education they can’t get,” said John Etchemendy, Stanford’s provost. “I’m quite impressed with it, and they are clearly attracting capable students. It’s something that does make me comfortable making Stanford’s ownership of it more prominent.”
Mr. Ravaglia, a 1987 Stanford graduate, helped pioneer the university’s online education programs in the 1990s. A few years after the 2001 opening of the university’s summer program for high school students, he recommended a fusion of the two that could cater to Stanford-caliber high school students wanting an online option.
The high school teachers are not university professors, though Mr. Ravaglia said a majority had doctorates. He declined to say how much they are paid.
In a typical class session, about 14 students simultaneously watch a live-streamed lecture, with video clips, diagrams and other animations to enliven the lesson. Instead of raising hands, students click into a queue when they have questions or comments; teachers call on them by choosing their audio stream, to be heard by all. An instant-messaging window allows for constant discussion among the students who, in conventional settings, might be chastised for talking in class.
“You’re interacting with people all the time — with people all over the world,” said Nick Benson, a senior whose career as an actor required the flexibility of online schooling. “The nature of the classes is that you do interact with people quote-unquote in person — you’re seeing their face and responding to them like in any normal class.”
Nick, who scored 2,340 out of 2,400 on the SAT and is applying to Stanford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Ivy League schools, said some college admissions officers needed some convincing. “It’s a conversation starter,” he said. “I haven’t had an interview that doesn’t run long, because they’re curious what the school is about.”
Students taking a full five-course load must be present for 10 seminars per week, each of them 60 to 90 minutes, with an additional 15 to 20 lectures of about 15 minutes that are recorded by the teachers and viewable at the students’ convenience. Fridays are reserved for activities like a student newspaper and an engineering team. Papers are submitted electronically, and students are required to find a Stanford-approved proctor to oversee exams.
“It’s uncommon for an online high school to not rely on more of an honor system, and it is a pain for kids to find suitable proctors,” Mr. Ravaglia said. “But we want legitimacy in the results, and don’t want students coming to the school for the wrong reason.”
Mr. Ravaglia said the school would gradually expand to about 100 students per grade and would keep class sizes around 15. (“We don’t have plans to have 1,000 kids and then press control-C to start replicating it,” he said.)
But Mr. Etchemendy, the provost, said he “would be neither upset nor shocked” if enrollment at Stanford Online High eventually approached that of Stanford’s undergraduate population, about 6,500.
Some outsiders have suggested that students and their parents might assume that enrolling in a prestigious university’s online high school would give them a leg up at college admission time. Mr. Ravaglia said the only advantage his students got in applying to Stanford was admissions officers’ familiarity with and respect for the program.
Harold O. Levy, a former New York City schools chancellor and founder of Kaplan’s online master’s of education program, said Stanford’s involvement in this sector could be a watershed.
“If Stanford proves that online high schooling can work for the high end, then that’s a great proof of concept,” said Mr. Levy, who is now a partner in a venture fund that invests in education companies, many of them for-profit or online. “But if it’s used by the low-end for-profits for marketing a poor product — and you know that will happen — in a way that undermines quality, that’s what scares me. That would be very dangerous.”
我最近讀了聖嚴法師的四本傳記，很[欣賞法鼓宗的活力。他們走的路正好與東海大學不同，是靠信眾的眾志成宗的；東海初期是美國的虔誠基督徒所樂捐的。我們工學院學生似乎選修過「世界宗教」(美國老師， 1974年) 。不過約1998年，東海接到何家捐的一筆前要蓋一學系大樓，初期有提議取一梵文漢譯的「大智慧」大樓，學校有些基督教友很生氣，而我對他們的文字障也很不以為然，跟他們說我家隔壁的真理堂之真理，在唐詩中找得到「真理寺」。
但是李敖非常自大，他說五百年 裡中國白話文的前三名是：李敖、李敖、李敖。他喜歡自大也就罷 了，但是，他還不忘時時要貶損他人。
他嘲笑他早年的同學（應該是指 張澔、林毓生），說他們到美國去學方法論，有什麼用，一樣寫不出 東西來。他表示瞧不起這些出國深造的同學。但是，我認為這兩位在 學術上的功力都超過李敖。
在那兒（Dear Brutus by J. M. Barrie），一位劇中人引用莎士比亞《裘力斯‧凱撒》第一幕第二場裡的兩行詩：
Casius The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
說明：這underlings（常用此複數型underlings） 或說是貶義的 subordinate 或 a person lower in status or rank.
WHAT with shrinking government funds and growing competition from online for-profit institutions, American colleges and universities are facing hard times, and being forced to rethink what they do. Richard A. DeMillo, director of the Center for 21st Century Universities at Georgia Institute of Technology, discusses the evolution of universities in his new book, “Abelard to Apple: The Fate of American Colleges and Universities.” Drawing on his experience as the first chief technology officer at Hewlett-Packard, director of the National Science Foundation’s computer and computation research division, and dean of Georgia Tech’s College of Computing, Dr. DeMillo offers an engineer’s view of the challenges facing higher education.
Q. Are colleges doing the right things to get ready for the future?
A. With a handful of exceptions, college presidents today are recruited to be stewards, not leaders. For the most part, they have gotten their jobs by convincing the search committee and the trustees that they’ll preserve the best of what the university has to offer. That’s a great goal, but as society changes, and universities are subject to the same political, geographic and economic forces as every other institution, preserving the past isn’t the only goal. Sometimes you have to be a chief executive officer, make priorities and set a direction that’s different from where you were going before.
There’s a big disconnect right now between how university presidents see the landscape and how everyone else sees it. A large majority of the American public thinks universities are doing a fair or poor job. But a huge majority of college presidents think they’re doing a good or excellent job. I think many of them are so concerned with stewardship that they lose sight of the data.
Q. In your book, you talk about some of the recent online educational innovations, like iTunes U and M.I.T.’s OpenCourseWare. What are those going to mean to universities?
A.What Chuck Vest did at M.I.T. with OpenCourseWare, putting every course online, free, showed that the value of a degree from M.I.T. was not contained in the lectures and the exams and homework. It’s contained in the experience of passing through the network of M.I.T. scholars. So why hang on to what should be shared widely? OpenCourseWare was an important signpost that hammered home the point that the content of a university course was being rapidly commoditized by technology. If you can easily access a lecture in quantum mechanics from the best lecturer on quantum mechanics, how many other quantum mechanics lectures do you need?
Q. Do you hear a lot from professors worried that having so many brilliant lectures available online will eventually do away with their jobs?
A. Absolutely. If you think your value is in 13 weeks of lectures, then exams, it’s true that that’s probably not going to be as valuable in the future. To some extent, that’s already happening with iTunes U, where you can hear a lecture on English literature or the global financial meltdown from someone who can explain it very well. What you get there is pretty much all you need to get students involved in the discussion. But that’s not the discussion. The discussion is what takes place afterward, maybe not in the classroom, but in the learning community. That’s where professors can add value.
Q. Can you give me an example of how your university, Georgia Tech, has evolved to meet the future?
A. When I stepped down as dean of computing in 2009, we had just come through a big transformation of computer science at Georgia Tech. After the dot-com bust, enrollment had fallen off dramatically, with people staying away from computer science for all the wrong reasons. They were afraid the jobs would be outsourced to India. Women were scared away from the field. So we went to employers — video game companies — to ask what they were looking for from computer science graduates. We talked to maybe two dozen companies, big and small. They said they needed people who not only know the technology but were skilled in the art of storytelling, the narrative arc. So we started an Introduction to Computer Science course for people who had grounding in humanities and liberal arts.
People who’d been turned off from computer science flooded in. Women flooded in. It was a group of Georgia Tech students who were impassioned about using computers for things that are impactful in art and in society. So we redesigned the undergraduate curriculum to let students choose two interdisciplinary threads, like computing and media, or computing and people, or computing and modeling.
What engineers are good at is out-of-the-box solutions, prototyping, and not waiting for a big system change to make an improvement.
Q. So from your vantage point at a leading engineering school, can you tell me what the university of the future will look like?
A. That’s the question everyone asks, but I really believe it’s not the right question. The 1910 landscape for higher education is almost unrecognizable today. A hundred years ago, when Edwin Slosson ranked universities by their reputations, there was no public funding of academic research, and his list of the top 14 elites included five public universities. Now, public research funding is huge and there isn’t a single public university in the U.S. News top 20. The only thing we can be sure of, here in 2011, is that there’s going to be a wave of innovation over the next century, and 100 years from now, higher education won’t look the same.
This interview was edited and condensed.
As it turns out, the prominent Dutch social psychologist who conducted those media-friendly experiments faked data for most of his career, in dozens of separate experiments going back to the mid-1990s.
The Associated Press reports that Diederik Stapel was fired from his university job after his fraudulent body of work was dismantled. His former employer, Tilburg University, said Thursday that it will press charges against him for forgery of documents and fraud.
He was unmasked when his own doctoral students called shenanigans. According to the investigation’s interim report, released this week, Stapel often refused to allow his students to participate in the experimental process. They were instead relegated to analyzing and writing about the data Stapel said he collected himself.
The AP explains that Stapel apparently coasted on his reputation – even co-authors of his papers would trust his "elaborate" setups for experiments that never happened. Siegwart Lindenberg, the co-author of Stapel’s April paper on stereotyping and messy environments told PRI’s The World that he had "no reason to be suspicious in any way about what he presented to me as the results of the experiments he conducted."
The World spoke to Lindenberg before the revelations, back when they did a story on the study’s findings. At the time, Lindenberg explained the experiment that may not have taken place:
Researchers questioned people and watched their behavior at a Dutch train station, during and after a strike by janitors that left the station a mess.
"In the messy condition, people stereotyped a lot more and they actually and they sat down much further from the person who was actually sitting there, when it was a different race," explained Lindenberg.
Science published that report back in April, and like many of Stapel’s experiments, it received a lot of press attention. According to the AP, they’ve since flagged the article with a note to readers.
At the request of the investigating committee, Stapel provided journal articles containing fabricated data. The articles date back to 1994.
The disgraced psychologist has apologized. In a public statement, Stapel writes: "I realize that via this behavior I have left my direct colleagues stunned and angry and put my field, social psychology, in a poor light."
There are a just a few inalienable truths in life and, for many, one of them is that school teachers are underpaid—but that's just not the case according to two leading conservative think tanks.
In a new report that is unlikely to make any friends on the other side of the political spectrum, the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute argue that not only are teachers not underpaid but that, when factoring in things like job security and benefits, they're actually substantially overpaid, earning 52 percent more than "fair market levels."
Part of their argument is based on the groups' findings that the wage gap between teachers and non-teachers is at least partly due to the fact that the former, on average, have lower cognitive abilities than those private sector workers with similar educational backgrounds.
"Public-school teachers earn less in wages on average than non-teachers with the same level of education, but teacher skills generally lag behind those of other workers with similar 'paper' qualifications," the authors write.
The authors point to research spanning 50 years indicating degrees in education are easier to obtain with high marks. They include a recent study by economist Corey Koedel in which he examined grade-point averages of graduates at three large research institutions, and found education majors finished with an average GPA of 3.65, while math, science and economics majors graduated with a 2.88.
The think tanks also claim that contrary to what would be expected, workers who switch from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs receive a wage increase of roughly 9 percent, while those that do the reverse see their wages drop by roughly 3 percent.
As expected, many progressives and teachers around the country went nuts upon reading the report, vehemently objecting to its findings, which conflict with what they say their own studies show.
"Not only should we question the reliability of this study, but we should also consider the source," Kim Anderson, director of advocacy for the National Education Association, told the Independent in an email. "The study is funded by the very same groups that are trying to eliminate the right of workers to have a voice in their workplace all together."
LOS ALTOS, Calif. — The chief technology officer of eBay sends his children to a nine-classroom school here. So do employees of Silicon Valley giants like Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard.
Blackboards, Not Laptops
Articles in this series are looking at the intersection of education, technology and business as schools embrace digital learning.
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But the school’s chief teaching tools are anything but high-tech: pens and paper, knitting needles and, occasionally, mud. Not a computer to be found. No screens at all. They are not allowed in the classroom, and the school even frowns on their use at home.
Schools nationwide have rushed to supply their classrooms with computers, and many policy makers say it is foolish to do otherwise. But the contrarian point of view can be found at the epicenter of the tech economy, where some parents and educators have a message: computers and schools don’t mix.
This is the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, one of around 160 Waldorf schools in the country that subscribe to a teaching philosophy focused on physical activity and learning through creative, hands-on tasks. Those who endorse this approach say computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans.
The Waldorf method is nearly a century old, but its foothold here among the digerati puts into sharp relief an intensifying debate about the role of computers in education.
“I fundamentally reject the notion you need technology aids in grammar school,” said Alan Eagle, 50, whose daughter, Andie, is one of the 196 children at the Waldorf elementary school; his son William, 13, is at the nearby middle school. “The idea that an app on an iPad can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic, that’s ridiculous.”
Mr. Eagle knows a bit about technology. He holds a computer science degree from Dartmouth and works in executive communications at Google, where he has written speeches for the chairman, Eric E. Schmidt. He uses an iPad and a smartphone. But he says his daughter, a fifth grader, “doesn’t know how to use Google,” and his son is just learning. (Starting in eighth grade, the school endorses the limited use of gadgets.)
Three-quarters of the students here have parents with a strong high-tech connection. Mr. Eagle, like other parents, sees no contradiction. Technology, he says, has its time and place: “If I worked at Miramax and made good, artsy, rated R movies, I wouldn’t want my kids to see them until they were 17.”
While other schools in the region brag about their wired classrooms, the Waldorf school embraces a simple, retro look — blackboards with colorful chalk, bookshelves with encyclopedias, wooden desks filled with workbooks and No. 2 pencils.
On a recent Tuesday, Andie Eagle and her fifth-grade classmates refreshed their knitting skills, crisscrossing wooden needles around balls of yarn, making fabric swatches. It’s an activity the school says helps develop problem-solving, patterning, math skills and coordination. The long-term goal: make socks.
Down the hall, a teacher drilled third-graders on multiplication by asking them to pretend to turn their bodies into lightning bolts. She asked them a math problem — four times five — and, in unison, they shouted “20” and zapped their fingers at the number on the blackboard. A roomful of human calculators.
In second grade, students standing in a circle learned language skills by repeating verses after the teacher, while simultaneously playing catch with bean bags. It’s an exercise aimed at synchronizing body and brain. Here, as in other classes, the day can start with a recitation or verse about God that reflects a nondenominational emphasis on the divine.
Andie’s teacher, Cathy Waheed, who is a former computer engineer, tries to make learning both irresistible and highly tactile. Last year she taught fractions by having the children cut up food — apples, quesadillas, cake — into quarters, halves and sixteenths.
“For three weeks, we ate our way through fractions,” she said. “When I made enough fractional pieces of cake to feed everyone, do you think I had their attention?”
Some education experts say that the push to equip classrooms with computers is unwarranted because studies do not clearly show that this leads to better test scores or other measurable gains.
Is learning through cake fractions and knitting any better? The Waldorf advocates make it tough to compare, partly because as private schools they administer no standardized tests in elementary grades. And they would be the first to admit that their early-grade students may not score well on such tests because, they say, they don’t drill them on a standardized math and reading curriculum.
When asked for evidence of the schools’ effectiveness, the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America points to research by an affiliated group showing that 94 percent of students graduating from Waldorf high schools in the United States between 1994 and 2004 attended college, with many heading to prestigious institutions like Oberlin, Berkeley and Vassar.
Of course, that figure may not be surprising, given that these are students from families that value education highly enough to seek out a selective private school, and usually have the means to pay for it. And it is difficult to separate the effects of the low-tech instructional methods from other factors. For example, parents of students at the Los Altos school say it attracts great teachers who go through extensive training in the Waldorf approach, creating a strong sense of mission that can be lacking in other schools.
Absent clear evidence, the debate comes down to subjectivity, parental choice and a difference of opinion over a single world: engagement. Advocates for equipping schools with technology say computers can hold students’ attention and, in fact, that young people who have been weaned on electronic devices will not tune in without them.
Ann Flynn, director of education technology for the National School Boards Association, which represents school boards nationwide, said computers were essential. “If schools have access to the tools and can afford them, but are not using the tools, they are cheating our children,” Ms. Flynn said.
Paul Thomas, a former teacher and an associate professor of education at Furman University, who has written 12 books about public educational methods, disagreed, saying that “a spare approach to technology in the classroom will always benefit learning.”
“Teaching is a human experience,” he said. “Technology is a distraction when we need literacy, numeracy and critical thinking.”
And Waldorf parents argue that real engagement comes from great teachers with interesting lesson plans.
“Engagement is about human contact, the contact with the teacher, the contact with their peers,” said Pierre Laurent, 50, who works at a high-tech start-up and formerly worked at Intel and Microsoft. He has three children in Waldorf schools, which so impressed the family that his wife, Monica, joined one as a teacher in 2006.
And where advocates for stocking classrooms with technology say children need computer time to compete in the modern world, Waldorf parents counter: what’s the rush, given how easy it is to pick up those skills?
“It’s supereasy. It’s like learning to use toothpaste,” Mr. Eagle said. “At Google and all these places, we make technology as brain-dead easy to use as possible. There’s no reason why kids can’t figure it out when they get older.”
There are also plenty of high-tech parents at a Waldorf school in San Francisco and just north of it at the Greenwood School in Mill Valley, which doesn’t have Waldorf accreditation but is inspired by its principles.
California has some 40 Waldorf schools, giving it a disproportionate share — perhaps because the movement is growing roots here, said Lucy Wurtz, who, along with her husband, Brad, helped found the Waldorf high school in Los Altos in 2007. Mr. Wurtz is chief executive of Power Assure, which helps computer data centers reduce their energy load.
The Waldorf experience does not come cheap: annual tuition at the Silicon Valley schools is $17,750 for kindergarten through eighth grade and $24,400 for high school, though Ms. Wurtz said financial assistance was available. She says the typical Waldorf parent, who has a range of elite private and public schools to choose from, tends to be liberal and highly educated, with strong views about education; they also have a knowledge that when they are ready to teach their children about technology they have ample access and expertise at home.
The students, meanwhile, say they don’t pine for technology, nor have they gone completely cold turkey. Andie Eagle and her fifth-grade classmates say they occasionally watch movies. One girl, whose father works as an Apple engineer, says he sometimes asks her to test games he is debugging. One boy plays with flight-simulator programs on weekends.
The students say they can become frustrated when their parents and relatives get so wrapped up in phones and other devices. Aurad Kamkar, 11, said he recently went to visit cousins and found himself sitting around with five of them playing with their gadgets, not paying attention to him or each other. He started waving his arms at them: “I said: ‘Hello guys, I’m here.’ ”
Finn Heilig, 10, whose father works at Google, says he liked learning with pen and paper — rather than on a computer — because he could monitor his progress over the years.
“You can look back and see how sloppy your handwriting was in first grade. You can’t do that with computers ’cause all the letters are the same,” Finn said. “Besides, if you learn to write on paper, you can still write if water spills on the computer or the power goes out.”