Our district has been moving forward with a plan to provide every secondary student with a Chromebook laptop for use in the classroom and at home (and to provide more devices in elementary schools as well). At this week’s meeting, the board will be asked to approve a $2.4 million technology purchase and lease, much of which will go toward funding this 1:1 laptop initiative. That money represents the tip of the iceberg of what will become a continuing expense, since the laptops are expected to have a three-year lifespan.
I’m not yet persuaded that the benefits of this initiative outweigh the costs. Our administrators have conceded that there is no hard data to show that providing every student with a laptop will increase student achievement (however defined). One the one hand, I’m glad to see anyone recognizing that test scores don’t capture the full effect of any educational practices; I’d be more persuaded, though, if this stance weren’t so selectively deployed. During our discussion of it at a recent work session, the initiative sounded less like the result of a careful consideration of costs and benefits and more like we are simply following a trend among districts elsewhere.
(To hear the response to the question, “Can we expect a measurable increase [in test scores] from this?”, and to hear some of the arguments in favor of the initiative from board members and administrators, listen for a few minutes here. See also Karen W.’s post here.)
As is too often the case at our meetings, the board made little or no attempt to grapple with counterarguments or to consider opportunity costs. It is not hard to find arguments that the proliferation of screens in school (and at home) does not promote and may even undermine learning. See here, here, here, and here, for just a few quick examples. I’m not endorsing those conclusions, but the board is not doing its job if it considers only arguments in favor and not arguments against. (See this post.)
There are also unresolved questions about the effect of the 1:1 initiative on the privacy of student data and on the district’s selection of textbooks. Will the district shift toward e-books and online-only materials instead of textbooks? If so, how will that affect curriculum and instruction?
There is also the fact that the money to fund the 1:1 initiative comes from SAVE, which is also a source of money for our facilities plan. If the pending bond proposal does not pass, we may wish that we had not spent those SAVE funds on student laptops, especially since the dollar figure here is actually larger than some of the smaller projects in the facilities plan.
There is, of course, enormous money to be made by selling technology to school districts, which ought to make the board give particular scrutiny to a large, ongoing expense like this one. Read about Los Angeles’ disastrous 1:1 iPad experience here.
Readers, what are your thoughts? Am I being too skeptical? Is it futile even to consider holding back the tide on school-provided devices?