Education reformers often talk of the potential for technology to revolutionize primary and secondary education through technology to ensure every child can succeed. This looks promising. Many technological gadgets and games offer the potential to make education exciting and efficient. As the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy put it earlier this year,

To allow… districts to rapidly prototype and scale up innovative online curricula, we created the Digital Online Content Evaluation Network (DOCENT), a cloud-based collection of established and emerging digital curricula that will make innovative new digital learning tools available to League members and that will leverage the buying power of all League members to be utilized in licensing these hosted tools.

A cloud-based collection of established and emerging digital curricula! All schools could potentially benefit from the best learning technology available.

But all of this looks a little ridiculous when one considers this: Schools can’t really even do air conditioning very well.

According to this piece over at Slate:

Baltimore County will be closing its public schools early today due to the unseasonable heat. We’re also seeing school closures widely in the midwest. And it really is hot. But all across the region things that aren’t schools are staying open thanks to the miracle of climate control technology. The fact that we can’t manage to get this done in our schools is laughably absurd.

Here in 2013 the unemployment rate is very high. It was very high in 2012. It was very high in 2011. It was very high in 2010. It was very high in 2009. And though only moderately high in 2008 it was clearly on an upward trajectory. At any time during this period having the federal government take advantage of low interest rates to borrow a bunch of money to hire a bunch of people to install air conditioners… in public schools across the land should have been a nice easy win for the short-term labor market and the long-term education prospects of the country. Kids can’t learn well in overheated rooms, and kids also can’t learn well when schools aren’t open. More broadly, there’s evidence that school districts myopically underinvest in physical facilities as a general matter.

Edudemic offers to “ a curated set of lists designed to showcase the best education technology resources… [teachers] should know about. From apps to laptops to tablets and beyond, we’re working on building the must-have guide to all things education technology.” Such lists actually can be very helpful, but because schools are largely funded by local property taxes, districts still don’t do a very good job funding basic physical infrastructure.

So much talk of improving education through sophisticated technological advancements really ought to consider that schools don’t even do a good job with standard, mechanical technology, like the kind that was available in American offices in the 1960s.

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer