Poor planning continues with one-to-one laptop initiative

Update: I have since heard that the School District is backing away (or correcting) statements made in the information meeting. In short, no student would be denied a laptop to be taken home because of family need -- those with hardships would be privately accommodated. Good to know that speaking out does work. However, we have yet to hear if the District continues to expect parents to still pay $55/year per laptop.

I attended yesterday's (June 2) information meeting about the High School's and School District's initiative to have students take laptops home. This was the second time this meeting had been given; having been given a month earlier. It was a poor example of a public meeting. There was no written agenda. There was no written details of important dates, costs, etc. There was no sign-up sheet so the presenters could follow up with attendees on questions unanswered during the meeting. And lastly, there was no one tasked with guiding the overall meeting.

The meeting was well attended. It looked like a full house of 50 to 70 attendees. I expect we were all there to get a clear understanding of the program and the expectations of teachers, students, parents, and administrators. We did not get that.

The meeting was divided into three parts. 1) An introduction which included an unnecessary motivational video and a welcome example of current use in a Spanish class. 2) Information on the laptops selected and the costs to the parents. And lastly, 3) information on the rollout in August.

The bombshell that was dropped on the parents was that the district is not taking responsibility for the costs of maintaining the laptops. The parents are expected to buy insurance at $55 per year. It was also stated that the parents would have to pay for the full four years of insurance up front, i.e. $220. Multiply that by the number of students you have in High School for final costs. As the meeting broke up one of the presenters said that you might be able to make yearly payments. That these decisions were not known at the start of the meeting is just another example of poor meeting planning.

When the presenters were asked about why a student within public education was expected to pay for insurance there was no answer. Instead, we were told that having the laptop was not mandatory. That students could "checkout" one for the day when needed. There was no information on how this would be accomplished within the constraints of, for example, staffing or adjustments to busing needed to give the students time to checkout and return the laptops. It seemed clear that there that little thought had been given to even the most rudimentary logistics.

A second question that arrises is how is a teacher going to prepare a curriculum and its supporting educational materials for a classroom where he or she can not expect a uniformity of laptops and internet connections? For example, one of the High School's innovate math teachers has implemented the "upside-down classroom" where the student watches videoed lectures at home and does "homework" in the classroom where their questions can be addressed immediately and with appropriate, individual instruction. How does the student without the laptop at home or in a home without an wireless internet connection participate? Why is the teacher expected to create more than one teaching plan?

One presenter answered that students could use the computers at the public library as though that was a reasonable option. Given that the public library is funded by the Municipality and not the School District, let's only consider this solution when the School District steps up to funding the additional hours and computers needed to support this. Again, another example of a lack of planning.

I could continue to critique the planning around the one-to-one laptop initiative. When this initiative first started I asked to be involved. I was invited to participate in the planning meetings. After attending the first few meetings it was clear that the initiative was actually being driven by PARCC testing requirements for computers and the need to hide the costs of this under the guise of instructional advancement. Perhaps this characterization is too harsh, but I have yet to see anything from the District that shows me different.
Update: See School Committee stands for educational equity.

1 comment:

Matt Caron said...

Apropos: http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/06/04/technology-wont-fix-americas-neediest-schools-it-makes-bad-education-worse/

Other thoughts:
1. For $220, you can buy your own laptop (http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/Category/guidedSearch.asp?CatId=17&sel=Price%3BPrice4,Detail%3B476_1808_120424_120424). None of these are great, but they are enough to get on the internet and type papers.
2. The idea of mandating a cohesive system is simultaneously ridiculous and unsurprising. A BYOD policy, which is where industry is moving, would make more sense here, and you just need to ensure that you use standard, broadly compatible technologies (likely web-based, but not necessarily) that are cross platform open standards.
3. Of course, asking people to understand what the hell the above means is likely unreasonable - they can barely comprehend not clicking on virus infested spam, so I don't have high hopes that this would actually be executed well. In the end, they'll mandate some crappy solution that the district was sold on by some press junket, and anyone opposed to it will be viewed either as an out of touch technophobe or a tech elitist.