One of the stories she tells where technology has failed to help is about parts of the American school system in Philadelphia. She discusses an attempt to use data to improve local school standards (as measured by standardised tests). She reports:
After six months of this, I discovered that the test could be gamed. Not by using a beat-the-test strategy, but by a shockingly low-tech strategy: reading the textbook that contains the answers.
So the standardised scores can be raise significantly by having access to the right books. But this is a problem (perhaps not just for Philadelphia):
One of those problems—shared by districts in New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, and other major cities—is that many schools don’t have enough money to buy books.
She reports that a single book The Elements of Literature costs $115 but that in 2012-13 her local school had an allocation of jut $30 per student to buy books for all subjects not just literature. And the book budget was eliminated entirely in the next two years.
Her argument is partly that technological magic bullets don't usually fix many key problems. But, more specifically, that parts of the American school system have a very obvious way to improve their performance–make sure all students have access to the right textbooks–but fail to achieve it.
The USA is one of the richest countries in the developed world. Can it really be true that the quality of its education in many regions is held back by something as simple as a lack of textbooks?
Broussard's argument is also summarised in this article in The Atlantic (which is more accessible if you don't have the book). While the issue of whether teaching from textbooks related to standardised tests rather than providing a good general education is an issue and, perhaps, an important one, it isn't the question here.
Given that this is how the USA measures educational achievement and given that textbooks seem essential to achieving good performance, do schools have enough books? Perhaps they should educate people differently but that is not the question here (feel free to pose the separately as a new question). The question is: do schools typically have enough books to do a good job given the current system?