Another Option and a Better One!
Unbelievably, here in Idaho next November we are actually going to vote on whether computers are a good thing. Voters will be asked to determine whether our schools and students will have up-to-date computing devices in their classrooms. Voters will be asked to decide whether Idaho students will be required to take a couple of online classes in order to graduate from high school.
Hard to believe but true! Why is it this surprising? Our world has changed so much. Most jobs require some basic understanding of computers and technology. Aren’t our schools supposed to prepare students for college or the workforce? But the labor unions were so threatened by technology that they secured enough signatures to get that Legislature’s education reforms on the November ballot.
Everywhere around our country schools are getting on-board with the latest technology because it works. It helps students learn. But here in Idaho the labor union obviously has a different agenda. And, it is not a good one for Idaho students, parents, taxpayers or for thousands of Idaho teachers that fully support the greater use of technology.
Consider the following excerpts from an article in the New York Times February 13, 2012.
MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Sixty educators from across the nation roamed the halls and ringed the rooms of East Mooresville Intermediate School, searching for the secret formula. They found it in Erin Holsinger’s fifth-grade math class.
There, a boy peering into his school-issued MacBook blitzed through fractions by himself, determined to reach sixth-grade work by winter. Three desks away, a girl was struggling with basic multiplication — only 29 percent right, her screen said — and Ms. Holsinger knelt beside her to assist. Curiosity was fed and embarrassment avoided, as teacher connected with student through emotion far more than Wi-Fi.
“This is not about the technology,” Mark Edwards, superintendent of Mooresville Graded School District, would tell the visitors later over lunch. “It’s not about the box. It’s about changing the culture of instruction — preparing students for their future, not our past.”
As debate continues over whether schools invest wisely in technology — and whether it measurably improves student achievement — Mooresville, a modest community about 20 miles north of Charlotte best known as home to several Nascar teams and drivers, has quietly emerged as the de facto national model of the digital school.
Mr. Edwards spoke on a White House panel in September, and federal Department of Education officials often cite Mooresville as a symbolic success. Overwhelmed by requests to view the programs in action, the district now herds visitors into groups of 60 for monthly demonstrations; the waiting list stretches to April. What they are looking for is an explanation for the steady gains Mooresville has made since issuing laptops three years ago to the 4,400 4th through 12th graders in five schools (three K-3 schools are not part of the program.
The district’s graduation rate was 91 percent in 2011, up from 80 percent in 2008. On state tests in reading, math and science, an average of 88 percent of students across grades and subjects met proficiency standards, compared with 73 percent three years ago. Attendance is up, dropouts are down. Mooresville ranks 100th out of 115 districts in North Carolina in terms of dollars spent per student — $7,415.89 a year — but it is now third in test scores and second in graduation rates. “Other districts are doing things, but what we see in Mooresville is the whole package: using the budget, innovating, using data, involvement with the community and leadership,” said Karen Cator, a former Apple executive who is director of educational technology for the United States Department of Education. “There are lessons to be learned.”
Start with math lessons: each student’s MacBook Air is leased from Apple for $215 a year, including warranty, for a total of $1 million; an additional $100,000 a year goes for software. Terry Haas, the district’s chief financial officer, said the money was freed up through “incredibly tough decisions.”
Sixty-five jobs were eliminated, including 37 teachers, which resulted in larger class sizes — in middle schools, it is 30 instead of 18 — but district officials say they can be more efficiently managed because of the technology. Some costly items had become obsolete (like computer labs), though getting rid of others tested the willingness of teachers to embrace the new day: who needs globes in the age of Google Earth?
Families pay $50 a year to subsidize computer repairs, though the fee is waived for those who cannot afford it, about 18 percent of them. Similarly, the district has negotiated a deal so that those without broadband Internet access can buy it for $9.99 a month. Mr. Edwards said the technology had helped close racial performance gaps in a district where 27 percent of the students are minorities and 40 percent are poor enough to receive free or reduced-price lunches.
And now here are some comments that were posted on the New York Times website:
I am currently a Junior at Mooresville High School, one of the schools within Mooresville Graded, and I think that since we have had the laptops, my productivity has gone up ten-fold regarding school work…. while there are some distracting features to access on the laptop, I think most would agree with me that the laptops are beneficial to our learning. I have a lot more organization, and it is harder to make excuses to procrastinate, as I have all of what I need right in front of me most of the time.
A number of people commenting here seem to have completely missed this key observation about the Mooresville teaching staff:
“They value computers not for the newest content they can deliver, but for how they tap into the oldest of student emotions — curiosity, boredom, embarrassment, angst — and help educators deliver what only people can.”
The article is trying to say that when combined with the right kind of teachers, digital technology can make the classroom a much more exciting and participatory place. How I would have loved to attend a Mooresville school. I graduated from high school in 1977, and recall only a handful of classes that were ever worth attending.
Here in Idaho the electorate is actually being asked to vote whether or not to move Idaho schools into the age of modern technology! Unbelievable!
There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.
- John F. Kennedy