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Rolling out the laptops

I look forward to seeing how this goes.

Tens of thousands of local students will receive taxpayer-funded laptops or tablets this month as the Houston and Clear Creek school districts join the national movement toward digital education.

School leaders say dispatching the devices can help bridge the gap between rich and poor families and lead to more engaging instruction, though some recent trials elsewhere were plagued with problems.

As the nation’s seventh-largest school system, HISD will be closely watched as it becomes the latest big-city district to experiment with giving students personal technology devices to use in class and at home.

By the end of January, the Houston Independent School District plans to have distributed laptops to roughly 18,000 students at a quarter of its high schools. At the same time, Clear Creek ISD expects to deploy about 6,000 tablets to all its ninth- and 10th-graders. Both districts intend to dispatch many more devices over the next few years.

“This project is not going to go without bumps,” said Lenny Schad, HISD’s chief technology officer. “But I’m confident when those bumps do occur, we’re going to be able to react very quickly and move forward.”

[…]

Research into whether personal technology programs – typically called one-to-one initiatives – lead to improved student achievement has yielded mixed results. While some districts and states started giving devices to students on a small scale more than a decade ago, few of those efforts have survived, largely for budget reasons.

But as cell phones and computers have become ubiquitous, technology experts say schools need to take public education more into the digital age.

“It is irresponsible for any school district not to be moving to creating 21st century learning environments. I think it’s criminal,” said Leslie Wilson, who co-directed Michigan’s $40 million school laptop program in the early 2000s. “But it’s also criminal to go about doing that without doing it right.”

[…]

Clear Creek voters approved the technology plan as part of a bond referendum last May. By the fall of 2015, the district expects to dispatch about 30,000 tablets to students in grades 4 through 12. The cost per device, including software, a case and extended warranty, is $541, according to the district.

HISD officials say leasing the HP laptops is cheaper, at about $260 for the device and software, excluding the case.

In both districts, the students ultimately have to return the devices.

So far, HISD has funded its laptop program with federal dollars designated for low-income students as well as professional development. For this school year, the district has budgeted more than $8.1 million for the devices, teacher training and other expenses. By January 2016, HISD plans to dispatch nearly 65,000 laptops to all its high school students.

HISD Superintendent Terry Grier has said he eventually would like to give devices to younger students as well.

See here, here, and here for the background. I agree that school districts need to make modern technologies available to their students. How else do we expect students to learn about them? It’s also vitally important for districts to have a solid plan for deploying laptops or tablets or whatever, to have a strong training program in place for teachers, and to track results and make adjustments as needed. There’s not enough long-term research available yet to provide clear guideposts, but we can at least learn from the failures of others. I’m excited about this and I hope it produces great results.

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One Comment

  1. Jed says:

    how else are kids going to learn about modern technologies?

    gee, let me borrow the ipad the kid next to me is playing with and i’ll google something up for you.

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