HISD Superintendent Terry Grier would like to bridge the digital divide in HISD.
Superintendent Terry Grier said his goal is to equip all 130,000 students in grades three through 12 with a laptop and hopes to start with at least some high schools next year. He will try to rally community support for the concept during his State of the Schools speech on Friday and plans to submit a formal proposal to the school board in coming months.
Details, including the price tag, are still being worked out, though one estimate puts the first-year cost for leasing hardware and software for high school students at roughly $10 million. Students would return the laptops when they graduated or left for some other reason.
“Technology is not something of the future. It’s here,” Grier said in an interview this week. “It’s not about teaching kids how to use computers. They already know. It’s about how we teach. It’s about how we engage students.”
HISD’s recently approved bond measure includes $100 million for technology infrastructure such as wiring. Grier suggested at a recent school board retreat that some funding could be diverted from textbooks. The HISD Foundation also is willing to try to raise money to offset some costs, said executive director Krista Moser.
HISD board president Anna Eastman said she wants to see a plan that would phase in the technology or start with a pilot program.
“At face value, giving every kid a laptop is potentially really exciting – the thought of a kid not having to lug around a lot of textbooks, teachers being able to access open-source,” she said. “That said, it’s really expensive and it would be an ongoing cost.”
Such technology efforts fail when schools don’t plan enough and don’t focus on the lessons they want students to learn, said Howard Pitler, a technology expert at Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.
“At its worst, (districts) bring in a laptop or an iPad for every student, just using it to take notes. Don’t spend $600 on a spiral notebook,” Pitler said. “At its best, the computer changes the focus of learning from teacher-directed to student-centered.”
As we know, the McAllen and Fort Bend ISDs have been distributing iPads to their students. It’s too early to know how well that’s going, I think the potential of such a program is clear. Eastman’s concerns are valid, and Pitler’s caution should be heeded, so we’ll want to have a plan before proceeding. But I think this is a good vision for Grier to have, and I’d like to see it happen.