Correlation or causation? Teacher resistance to state technology initiatives

Terry Moe and John Chubb say…

A. “The average technology score [from Education Week’s Technology Counts 2008] drops as union membership grows. . . . technology seems to be advancing more quickly in states where the unions are weakest” (p. 107). [chart is from p. 108]


B. “The percentage of states with state-level virtual schools drops steadily as the unionization of teachers grows” (p. 118). [chart is from p. 119]


C. “[We] look at the percentage of states . . . that have data systems with the capacity to link students and teachers . . . [and see] the same basic pattern as for virtual schools – which is telling, as virtual schools and teacher identifiers have little to do with one another aside from their impact on union interests” (pp. 138–139). [chart is from p. 139]


[Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education]

Previous posts in this series

  1. Education’s resistance to technology will be overcome

  2. It would be impossible for the information revolution to unfold and NOT have transformative implications for how children can be educated

  3. Technology will free learning from the dead hand of the past

  4. Technological change is destined to be resisted by the teachers unions

17 Responses to “Correlation or causation? Teacher resistance to state technology initiatives”

  1. As a union member I don’t see how the union has anything to do with it. We have sent SEVERAL requests for updated technology through our Title 1 appropriation. It has been denied. We know how important it is for differentiation and motivation. We keep asking for it and we are told no to any major technological purchases.

  2. If I read the first chart correctly, it seem to be saying that the higher the percentage of union membership in a state’s teacher workforce, the more backwarks the state’s technology programs are. That’s great, accept that West Virginia schools I think have one of the highest (perhaps THE highest) technology ranking in the country and almost all WV teachers are union members. So perhaps the generalization falls in the category of “Lies, damn lies, and statistics.”

    I probably won’t buy the book…

  3. “The average technology score [from Education Week’s Technology Counts 2008] drops as union membership grows. . . . technology seems to be advancing more quickly in states where the unions are weakest” Thanks for at least bringing up the point the question of causation or correlation. Determining the difference is huge.

    I’m betting on correlation.

  4. Scott, the authors of this book have used questionable research to attack public education for years. I can’t comment on the research they’re talking about here, but I’m surprised that you have devoted so many posts to people with such a questionable history.


  5. @mkefgen: I feel for your plight. I truly do. However, when we make policy, we have to look beyond local, individual instances and note larger, general trends.

    @Greg Cruey: I think my policy statement applies to you too (and, yes, West Virginia IS doing great things!).

    @Dan McGuire: So what do you think could be the third factor?

    @Larry Ferlazzo: I’m well aware of Chubb & Moe’s ideological orientation and know that many educators aren’t very fond of them. That said, I think it’s important to learn from a variety of different perspectives and try hard to get myself out of the ‘echo chamber.’ I am presenting some of their thoughts in order to expose others to some of what they are saying in their newest book (which I think is worth reading regardless of your own ideological predispositions).

  6. 1. How do you define “technology is advancing”, what a broad statement…how is it advancing?
    2. I wonder where PA and Maine fall in regards to the disaggregated data b/c they are two states that I think are head and shoulders above the rest regarding technology use.

  7. Scott,
    Larry said that the research is questionable, not that people aren’t “fond” of them. I think that’s a relevant question, and if their research is questionable, then it becomes less important to present them as a different perspective. I love to see different opinions, but hopefully backed up by quality research.

    The fact that you are presenting it seems to imply that you believe that it’s valid.

  8. @Sylvia: Fair enough. You’re right (as usual!). =)

    Is their research questionable? Is that an open question? Is ideologically-charged research always questionable? Is there any research that isn’t questionable?

    By presenting someone else’s statements without any commentary of one’s own, does that imply endorsement of that other person’s beliefs? Or could it simply be an attempt to highlight some interesting issues while letting others judge for themselves?

  9. Honestly, when I read a post like this I have to ask, what do you think the purpose/point of public education is? Because it sounds like the point should be to teach students how to use technology.

    I’m all for technology that is used to aid student learning. I think is wasteful and shortsighted to throw a bunch of technology into classrooms and think that will make students better thinkers. I also think that students can be taught incredible things without technology.

    Unions are not evil. This is propaganda targeting teachers unions and blaming them for what is likely an issue with school funding. Not with unions. Most of the good educators I know are using and teaching with technology in the classroom.

    Virtual/Online schools…I’m not completely opposed to the use of online instruction. However, I think it is a big mistake thinking it can replace actual human interaction in the classroom.

  10. @Scott re:@Dan McGuire: So what do you think could be the third factor?
    I was saying that I don’t think unions are a causative factor in the degree to which technology is used in the various states. I think there are lots of reasons some people are resisting awakening to the reality that is all around them. I think that unions could do a whole lot more than they’ve done to enlighten their members, but teacher professional development is not the responsibility of unions in most current contracts. I would like to see unions do more, but doing more will cost money or require diverting the meager flow already supporting professional development.
    I haven’t read the book and I think there’s lots of things on which I could more beneficially spend money and time. Do they mention teacher and administrator training institutions as sources of resistance to change? Have I ever told you about the supervisor of one of my student teachers who wouldn’t let the student teacher use her Palm handheld to sync with mine for lesson planning? The student teacher was required to submit her plans ‘by hand.’ This really happened not that many years ago.

  11. Scott,

    For a brief description of the questionable data Terry Moe has used in the past, you can go to:

    There is that old saying, “There are Lies, Damn Lies, and statistics.” However, some data is more reliable than other data, and some collectors and analyzers of data are more reliable as well.

    I agree that it’s always a good idea to expose oneself to different ideas, and stay out of an echo chamber.

    I just wonder if you might have chosen a researcher with a more reliable and valid history to use up so much of your blog’s space…


  12. Scott,
    Considering that every blogger has to make tough choices about what they present, I think there is certainly an implication of support, or at least validation, in simply making the choice to blog about this.

    I do believe that presenting it without comment implies endorsement of their conclusions. Perhaps this is not true – only you can say.

    But it seems easy enough to pick out some questions immediately without any resort to ideology.

    1. What does the Ed Week score actually measure? I’m not sure I accept their choices of what technology means. Who funds their study?

    2. What exactly are “state-level virtual schools”. What is a non-state level virtual school? Is this related to state size or urbanization ratio?

    3. What does it mean that “data systems” exist “with the capacity to link students and teachers”. What does “link” mean? Is this the kind of system that is created to reward/punish teachers based on student test scores? And what’s a “teacher identifier”?

    It also seems to me that these charts would be more useful if the raw numbers of how many states fall into each subgroup were used instead of percentages. Maybe this is stated somewhere in the original study, but leaving those numbers out seems misleading.

    For example, in chart B, 50% looks “bigger” than 35%, except that it could be 50% of 2 states (1 state) and 35% of 25 states (9 states) so in this case 50% is actually much less than 35%.

    I’m hoping that you are introducing this material in order to say something about it, something that brings your knowledge of the field and current state of affairs to bear on this data.

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what do they define as technology? We know that everything gets lumped into this category, from creativity software to soul-deadening test prep monstrosities.

    I think it’s crucial to understand this distinction. Just accepting anything that plugs in or boots up as educational technology means that “we” end up defending their use. It’s a bad corner to be forced into.

    I’m hoping you will share your knowledge and opinion on these studies you’ve profiled and highlighted in your blog in light of these issues.

  13. If this is a true case of cause-and-effect, I have to admit, I see some connections.

    In the two districts in which I’ve served, Union membership/interest is highest when district officials show a lack of desire to work with the teachers. They embody disrespect by handing down mandates without teacher input, making ridiculous demands without providing support, and purposefully breaking apart programs that are doing well. All of these things have happened in my district recently.

    Technology requires collaboration. When a disconnect grows between teachers and admin, teachers band together and strengthen the union, and collaboration is practically impossible.

    In my experience, strong unions are a symptom, not a cause.

  14. These charts are interesting if truly connected. I personally would be raising cain with my local and state reps if I thought it were true.

    It is possible to reach another conclusion with the same information… the same charts could present a case where states/administrations are more willing to put dollars into equipment where the unions are weaker.

  15. Bingo! I think you nailed this one on the head @Manda. Now the question is how does one fix it. If this is true, then, it doesn’t even matter if there is a strong correlation between tech integration/adoption/progress and student learning. The level of collaboration/cooperation should be a factor with a great ability to tarnish any measurable results that are dependent on it.

  16. So West Virginia might be an outlier; any ideas as to why? Per Christensen, Disrupting Class, we have lots to learn by studying outliers. The fascinating questions might be “How/why did WV teachers support tech? What was the WVEA’s role in it?” Correlation doesn’t deal with absolute certainties; it is about probabilities – the likelihood of…..
    The bar chart was a good start; I’d like to see the scatter plot on all 50 states. I’d like to some more data. I’d like to see outliers (if any) on the other end – low union and low tech. Thanks for pointing out an outlier! (PS – I don’t have the raw data, so I am taking at face value your description of WV’s union penetration and edtech scores.)

  17. This post has prompted some good discussion. I note the title is “Correlation or causation? Teacher resistance to state technology initiatives” The question mark was on correlation or causation; teacher resistance… did not have the question mark. It may have implied to some that it was being offered as a given fact. It may have been offered as an attention getter.
    I’d like to see some posts and discussion on how to evaluate research. What is high quality research? Are moving toward a consensus of what is decent research? What role if any does “ideological based” research play? What about “advocacy research”? What is the difference between research and evidence?
    Posts that promote discussion are a good start – they are like starting the lesson.

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