How Silicon Valley Plans to Conquer the Classroom!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has a featured article this morning describing the growing aquisition of  laptop computers and related software in the nation’s schools. The main purpose of the article is demonstrate how much headway technology has made since the 1990s  and the manner in which technology companies curry favor with school officials and policymakers.  Here is an excerpt:

“Administrators at Baltimore County Public Schools, the 25th-largest public school system in the United States, have embraced the laptops as well, as part of one of the nation’s most ambitious classroom technology makeovers. In 2014, the district committed more than $200 million for HP laptops, and it is spending millions of dollars on math, science and language software. Its vendors visit classrooms. Some schoolchildren have been featured in tech-company promotional videos.

And Silicon Valley has embraced the school district right back.

HP has promoted the district as a model to follow in places as diverse as New York City and Rwanda. Daly Computers, which supplied the HP laptops, donated $30,000 this year to the district’s education foundation. Baltimore County schools’ top officials have traveled widely to industry-funded education events, with travel sometimes paid for by industry-sponsored groups.

Silicon Valley is going all out to own America’s school computer-and-software market, projected to reach $21 billion in sales by 2020. An industry has grown up around courting public-school decision makers, and tech companies are using a sophisticated playbook to reach them, the New York Times has found in a review of thousands of pages of Baltimore County school documents and in interviews with dozens of school officials, researchers, teachers, tech executives and parents.

School leaders have become so central to sales that a few private firms will now, for fees that can climb into the tens of thousands of dollars, arrange meetings for vendors with school officials, on some occasions paying superintendents as consultants. Tech-backed organizations have also flown superintendents to conferences at resorts. And school leaders have evangelized company products to other districts.

These marketing approaches are legal. But there is little rigorous evidence so far to indicate that using computers in class improves educational results. Even so, schools nationwide are convinced enough to have adopted them in hopes of preparing students for the new economy.

In some significant ways, the industry’s efforts to push laptops and apps in schools resemble influence techniques pioneered by drug makers. The pharmaceutical industry has long cultivated physicians as experts and financed organizations, like patient advocacy groups, to promote its products.”

In 1994, I used the term “education-industrial complex” to refer to the networks and alliances that were forming to promote the use of technology and related services in American K-12 education (Picciano, 1994).   In this article, I described the education-industrial complex as in its infancy but contended that within the next ten or more years, a major new thrust would occur that would become “very visible”.   In 2013, I published a book with Joel Spring on The Great-American Education-Industrial Complex:  Ideology, Technology, and Profit (Routledge/Taylor & Francis) that followed up on the issues of some of the issues raised in this article.  In sum, the great American education-industrial complex is alive and well.  One caveat is that instructional technology has gotten better and better and increasingly is providing beneficial experiences for students and teachers.  However, it is a reach to assume that it is a silver bullet that will spark widespread improvement in student achievement.


Picciano, A.G. (1994). Technology and the evolving education-industrial complex,  Computers in  the Schools, 11(2), pp. 85‑101.

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