by Howard Stephenson


Last week in this column I addressed the challenges of getting the monolith public education system to embrace technology in the classroom. This week I will address the technology issue further and discuss my plan to bring average teacher pay in Utah to the national average.

Technology has the capacity to exponentially increase student learning by increasing the amount of work accomplished. At the same time teachers can dramatically expand their capacity to teach students successfully, enabling students to move ahead more efficiently and independently with teachers as facilitators, not time keepers or record clerks.

The 21 st Century Classroom

Let’s take the 21 st Century first grade as an example. The teacher is easily heard by every student because of modern, inexpensive audio enhancement of the teacher’s voice in addition to a pass around microphone which makes every student heard when they participate. Projection technology also makes video clips and Internet demonstrations easy for teachers to incorporate as part of their lesson plans.

Each student receives ½ hour of one-on-one computer-assisted reading instruction and practice at his own level and pace. In the traditional classroom, this amount of reading out-loud to a teacher is simply not possible, even where small class sizes are available. In fact, the typical student in a traditional classroom reads aloud to a tutor or teacher an average of only one or two minutes a day.

Wearing headsets with microphones, students in the modern classroom choose from lists of books to read to the computer tutor. Students are prompted when they miss a word. The computer tutor pronounces the word correctly and the student repeats the word before moving on. The meaning of the missed word is available at a click if the student wishes. At the end of the page the student is shown his score and asked if he wants to read the page again to obtain a better score or if he wants to go to the next page.

At the end of the chapter the student is given a simple test for reading comprehension and is allowed to see her proficiency, accuracy, fluency, and comprehension scores for the day along with the scores for past days of reading. All children feel a sense of accomplishment and success and look forward to reading on their own and returning to the computer the next day. Slower readers no longer feel self-conscious reading aloud, no longer do negative self-labeling and no longer have reason to act out as they compare themselves unfavorably to the rest of the read-aloud group.

The next day that child will choose to re-read today’s selection to improve his score or choose from a selection of slightly more challenging. Every child moves at his own pace and feels a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Children look forward to reading time and are disappointed when other activities interfere. Students find computer assisted reading fun. Their confidence grows and they are found to engage in more independent reading in school and at home.

One teacher can monitor – in real time on a computer screen – the progress of 30 or more students simultaneously. A file-server alerts the teacher to any student who is struggling. The teacher can then choose to listen in over the computer or to go to the student personally and provide assistance. The teacher can get reports on the progress of each student and view rankings of student performance, enabling her to focus specifically on, say, reading comprehension for three students, fluency for two others, and phonics for four others.

Parents can also choose to receive an email report or go online and check their students’ progress. They can see the titles read by their students and their performance with each title. Parents can actually hear their children’s recorded reading for the day or can just hear problem words spoken by their children to ensure positive feedback and practice at home.

Arithmetic classes are also fun because every child succeeds and moves at his own pace. Every child can get 100% on every homework assignment. After the teacher demonstrates the math concept for the day, students return to their computers and do their homework with the assistance of a computer which checks their work along the way and prompts them when a mistake is made. Similar to computer assisted reading, teachers monitor student work both real-time and at the end of each day’s work. As with reading, parents have instant access to their child’s performance in arithmetic and are prompted in what home support parents can provide to ensure greater success.

Computers cannot replace teachers, but computers as tools can give teachers tremendous capacity to improve their success in teaching and the success of their students in learning.

Class Size Reduction or Higher Teacher Pay?

The teacher unions are pushing smaller class sizes, but it’s a high cost proposal. State analysts tell us that getting Utah’s average class size to the national average could cost approximately $5.5 billion. Hiring teachers to reduce class size would be a real trick when teachers are in short supply already. If we’re to turn around the teacher supply problem and convince teachers who have left Utah for such places as Clark County Nevada, we’ve got to increase teacher pay. Increasing Utah average teacher salaries to the national average would cost approximately $200 million – a lot of money – but far less than the amount needed to reduce class sizes.

As Senate Chair of the Public Education Appropriations Sub-committee in the Utah Legislature, I have proposed a four-year plan to reach the national average teacher pay. This is an achievable goal and will ensure better teaching in Utah schools. But I don’t believe we should be increasing teacher salaries by the same amount across the board. I’m co-sponsoring HB 381 with Representative Rhonda Menlove to enact differential pay. House Bill 381 would provide differential pay for teachers in short supply. Highly qualified math, science, and special education teachers would receive $5,000 to $10,000 more annually. Other teachers in highly impacted and Title I schools would receive $3,000 per year above the salary schedule and hard to staff rural schools would also have a pot of money from which to pay teachers a stipend to teach in remote areas.