Seeing No Progress
Some Schools Drop Laptops

Today, the New York Times published an article about schools that have Decided to get rid of their one-to-one laptop projects.
There is a litany of reasons: cheating, pornography, hacking, and repair costs. But the worst by far was the fact that student's test scores didn't go up. I don't know why cheating and pornography are mentioned in the same breath with the project's failure to reach objectives, but an analysis of the failure should be attempted.

*** Update 5-12-07 - It turns out that the average usage for all schools was only 10 minutes a day for BOTH math and reading.***

Since I am in Broward County, I will quote the portion of the article that deals with us first.
Two years ago, school officials in Broward County, Fla., the sixth-largest district in the country, shelved a $275 million proposal to issue laptops to each of their more than 260,000 students after re-evaluating the costs of a pilot project. The district, which paid $7.2 million to lease 6,000 laptops for the pilot at four schools, was spending more than $100,000 a year for repairs to screens and keyboards that are not covered by warranties. “It’s cost prohibitive, so we have actually moved away from it,” said Vijay Sonty, chief information officer for the district, whose enrollment is 37 percent black, 31 percent white and 25 percent Hispanic.

The program was initiated three years ago, then two years ago it was abandoned. The repair cost was only 1.4% of the cost of the laptops annually. I wonder if that included theft? The six thousand laptops were given to students at schools where online education was absent from classrooms and the teachers unprepared to teach using the appropriate tools. Note that I said "online education", not technology education.

What is not surprising about the article is that students are not scoring higher on tests. This is because teachers are teaching the same way, using the same material and the same lessons they were prior to having computers.

The reporter states that many districts sought to "prepare their students for a technology-driven world and close the so-called digital divide between students who had computers at home and those who did not."

In the very next paragraph we have this from Mark Lawson of the Liverpool New York School District:
The teachers were telling us when there’s a one-to-one relationship between the student and the laptop, the box gets in the way. It’s a distraction to the educational process.

I don't know if it's obvious to you, but what I see is a disconnect between two stated learning objectives that should be naturally connected. Maybe the first isn't really a learning objective, but it expresses the hands-on use of a tool (like a pencil) in pursuit of knowledge. The idea is to teach "through" the box, not to use it like a supplemental textbook.

The article goes on recounting disaster stories. Schools that have two sets of classes for haves and have-nots, huge repair bills, and the dreaded time consuming computer glitches. It concludes with a quote from Tom McCarthy, a teacher who says that the art of thinking is lost when you can give up after you find the first reference online.

*Grins in an evil fashion* Can you tell why I have the grin? I just have to wonder why a computer causes a child to satisfice when doing research. I have to wonder why a computer is responsible for any off-task behavior at all.

My classroom has a computer for each child. A web server delivers lessons and content. A web server is used to store student created projects. The Internet is used to bring content into the classroom from all over the world to enrich the experience. I can see every screen as I walk around the room and talk to the students and off-task behavior is no worse or better than any other classroom. Sometimes students even cheat.

But what my students don't do is idle their brains. Saying the art of thinking is lost typifies an abysmal misunderstanding of tool usage.