While it’s still too early to tell exactly how the passing of the sequestration deadline will affect education as a whole, there is no doubt that it will be felt. When it comes to early childhood education (Pre-K through third grade), there is one area in particular we’ll be keeping an eye on: the use of technology in early learning.
In the spring of 2012, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media issued a joint position statement on the use of technology in early childhood. This heralded a significant shift: instead of supporting a ban on all screen time with the youngest children, the nation’s preeminent early childhood educator organization called for appropriate and intentional use of “technology and interactive media” for learning. The paper pointed to the need for good tools and for more teacher knowledge about tools.
Meanwhile, the number of apps designed for young children is massive and increasing. A study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop found that three-quarters of top selling apps in the Education section of the iTunes Store are for preschool or elementary aged children; the age subcategory with the most apps and greatest growth is toddlers and preschoolers (Shuler, 2012). Other key players who are heralding this trend and helping direct it toward better tools and better outcomes for young students include Children’s Technology Review founder and editor Warren Buckleitner and Lisa Guernsey, Director of the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation and author of Screen Time: How Electronic Media – From Baby Videos to Educational Software – Affects Your Young Child.
Harnessing the power of technology in education is an approach that many agree makes sense, but with the cost of acquiring technology, training staff, and implementing it into curriculum, budget cuts may work against swift adoption. Yet many states and districts have realized cost savings by replacing costly traditional teaching tools with digital solutions. Baily Mitchell, CTIO of the Forsyth Schools in GA, was quoted in a 2010 whitepaper – From Paper to Pixel: Digital Textbooks and Florida Schools:
We spend about $81 per student each year on textbooks but only $19 per student on all of the digital content we subscribe to, and that includes a broad collection of multimedia resources, databases, and interactive lessons.
In addition to cost savings, technology such as digital textbooks can provide more control over curriculum and greater access to educational information. Mary Jane Tappen, Deputy Chancellor for Curriculum, Instruction, and Student Services for the Florida Department of Education was quoted in a recent EdWeek article:
We’re moving away from one book per content area per grade per student. With digital capabilities already in development, Florida will be able to track what pieces of content are the most successful with students. Tools providing a rating for pieces of digital content will be visible on each teacher’s desktop, allowing the teacher to sort the material by standard and the best rating.
This blended learning approach could benefit from sequestration or it could be hurt by a lack of investment in new technologies. There are certainly other important areas of early childhood education that could be impacted by the federal budget impasse, including teacher professional development initiatives and curriculum standards. We’ll certainly be watching closely.