When P21 released a study documenting the importance of the “4Cs” to “workforce preparedness and business success,” we criticized them for marketing products without providing proof that using them affects student learning. The Washington Post has taken note. Reporter Stephanie McCrummen provides fresh evidence of the sleazy relationship between ed-tech companies and school districts, such as ed-tech companies sending school district officials on resort junkets and booking them for speaking engagements. She also reveals how unreliable, even dishonest, much of the research is behind tech ed products.
McCrummen discovered that Promethean, a manufacturer of whiteboards, is among the worst offenders. Sherwin Collette, the tech director for Montgomery County schools, spoke at Promethean-sponsored education conferences after the school district signed “a $13 million deal with Promethean to lease 2,600 whiteboards in 2008.” The Arizona attorney general – remember, P21 is headquartered in Tucson – “criticized Tucson Unified School District officials for accepting rooms, meals, an open bar and free iPods at a resort conference paid for by Promethean after the district spent $2.1 million on products.” Doug Levin, the head of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, doesn’t see anything wrong with Promethean’s behavior. According to Levin, it’s the “[job] of the public sector to evaluate claims of these vendors.” Levin’s organization counts Promethean among its $30,000 platinum sponsors.
And how is the public sector supposed to evaluate claims about these products if the only research into the products is paid for by the tech companies? One of the most-cited articles about whiteboard effectiveness, published by Marzano Research Laboratory (“powered by Solution Tree,” which is also a paid promoter of 21st century skills), was funded by whiteboard manufacturer Promethean. The study makes great claims about how whiteboards increase student achievement, but even Robert Manzano, the study’s author, concedes that “23% of teachers reported higher test scores without the whiteboard, and some reported lower scores using it.” The study’s methods were criticized by Dan Willingham in a separate article for the Post, and Steve Ross, an education professor at Johns Hopkins, characterized the study as “suggestive” and inconclusive – “and that’s being generous.”
You tell us – is it a cheap shot to suggest that something fishy is going on here?