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Should K–12 schools limit students’ screen time?

Oct 11, 2017 by

Two educators debate the wisest use of technology in the classroom

Educational technology is a billion dollar industry—and growing. But not all educators or parents are convinced of its benefits in the classroom. Proponents of technology’s ability to enhance and expand teacher’s well-crafted lessons contend that when ed tech delivers mediocre results, fault can be attributed to implementation challenges. Opponents, however, see a larger problem with screen time in school: it detracts from the face-to-face interaction that defines the human condition and will prepare students for not only careers but also citizenship. In a new forum for Education Next, Daniel Scoggin, co-founder of the GreatHearts classical charter-school network based in Arizona, and Tom Vander Ark, CEO of the advisory firm Getting Smart and previously a public school superintendent in Washington State, weigh the virtues of trading face time for screen time during the school day.

Scoggin knows ed tech has increasingly become entwined with learning, and that it always will be, and although he sees it as a useful support, he cautions that “more gadgets” doesn’t equal more learning. In increasingly polarized times, schools must equip students not just to find information, but also to analyze and understand it through human interactions and reflection. At GreatHearts charter schools, “the point is not to cordon students off from technology—but to teach students how to go back and forth thoughtfully between various media and understand the costs and benefits of each.” Schools prepare students for the future by instilling in them empathy and character.

Vander Ark thinks schools must take technology further by using it to foster an innovation mindset, so as to prepare students for the automation economy. Ed tech offers schools tools to implement self-paced learning, project-based learning, and virtual experiences that enrich core lessons. Still, smart use of technology requires discerning educators. “The most effective blended-learning models use the best available tools to create the most optimal learner experiences while keeping adult guidance and peer relationships foremost.” With thoughtful management, technology can expand student learning opportunities, including peer interactions, while preparing students for a technology-driven future.

About the Authors: Daniel Scoggin is the co-founder of the GreatHearts classical charter-school network. Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of the advisory firm Getting Smart.

About Education Next: Education Next is a scholarly journal committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform, published by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School. For more information, please visit

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