[xmca] NYTimes.com article: Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops

From: Steve Gabosch <sgabosch who-is-at comcast.net>
Date: Sat May 05 2007 - 09:02:24 PDT

NY Times

May 4, 2007

Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops

By
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/h/winnie_hu/index.html?inline=nyt-per>WINNIE
HU

LIVERPOOL, N.Y. The students at Liverpool High
have used their school-issued laptops to exchange
answers on tests, download pornography and hack
into local businesses. When the school tightened
its network security, a 10th grader not only
found a way around it but also posted
step-by-step instructions on the Web for others to follow (which they did).

Scores of the leased laptops break down each
month, and every other morning, when the entire
school has study hall, the network inevitably
freezes because of the sheer number of students
roaming the Internet instead of getting help from teachers.

So the Liverpool Central School District, just
outside Syracuse, has decided to phase out
laptops starting this fall, joining a handful of
other schools around the country that adopted
one-to-one computing programs and are now
abandoning them as educationally empty and worse.

Many of these districts had 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.

“After seven years, there was literally no
evidence it had any impact on student achievement
none,” said Mark Lawson, the school board
president here in Liverpool, one of the first
districts in
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/national/usstatesterritoriesandpossessions/newyork/index.html?inline=nyt-geo>New
York State to experiment with putting technology
directly into students’ hands. “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.”

Liverpool’s turnabout comes as more and more
school districts nationwide continue to bring
laptops into the classroom. Federal education
officials do not keep track of how many schools
have such programs, but two educational
consultants, Hayes Connection and the Greaves
Group, conducted a study of the nation’s 2,500
largest school districts last year and found that
a quarter of the 1,000 respondents already had
one-to-one computing, and fully half expected to by 2011.

Yet school officials here and in several other
places said laptops had been abused by students,
did not fit into lesson plans, and showed little,
if any, measurable effect on grades and test
scores at a time of increased pressure to meet
state standards. Districts have dropped laptop
programs after resistance from teachers,
logistical and technical problems, and escalating maintenance costs.

Such disappointments are the latest example of
how technology is often embraced by
philanthropists and political leaders as a quick
fix, only to leave teachers flummoxed about how
best to integrate the new gadgets into
curriculums. Last month, the United States
Department of Education released a study showing
no difference in academic achievement between
students who used educational software programs
for math and reading and those who did not.

Those giving up on laptops include large and
small school districts, urban and rural
communities, affluent schools and those serving
mostly low-income, minority students, who as a
group have tended to underperform academically.

Matoaca High School just outside Richmond, Va.,
began eliminating its five-year-old laptop
program last fall after concluding that students
had failed to show any academic gains compared
with those in schools without laptops. Continuing
the program would have cost an additional $1.5
million for the first year alone, and a survey of
district teachers and parents found that
one-fifth of Matoaca students rarely or never
used their laptops for learning. “You have to put
your money where you think it’s going to give you
the best achievement results,” said Tim Bullis, a district spokesman.

Everett A. Rea Elementary School in Costa Mesa,
Calif., where more than 95 percent of students
are Hispanic and come from low-income families,
gave away 30 new laptops to another school in
2005 after a class that was trying them out
switched to new teachers who simply did not do as
much with the technology. Northfield Mount Hermon
School, a private boarding school in western
Massachusetts, eliminated its five-year-old
laptop program in 2002 after it found that more
effort was being expended on repairing the
laptops than on training teachers to teach with them.

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.

Here in Liverpool, parents have long criticized
the cost of the laptop program: about $300,000 a
year from the state, plus individual student
leases of $25 a month, or $900 from 10th to 12th
grades, for the take-home privilege.

“I feel like I was ripped off,” said Richard
Ferrante, explaining that his son, Peter, used
his laptop to become a master at the Super Mario
Brothers video game. “And every time I write my
check for school taxes, I get mad all over again.”

Students like Eddie McCarthy, 18, a Liverpool
senior, said his laptop made him “a lot better at
typing,” as he used it to take notes in class,
but not a better student. “I think it’s better to
wait and buy one for college,” he said.

More than a decade ago, schools began investing
heavily in laptops at the urging of school boards
and parent groups who saw them as the key to the
21st century classroom. Following Maine’s lead in
2002, states including Michigan, Pennsylvania and
South Dakota helped buy laptops for thousands of
students through statewide initiatives like
“Classrooms for the Future” and “Freedom to
Learn.” In New York City, about 6,000 students in
22 middle schools received laptops in 2005 as
part of a $45-million, three-year program
financed with city, state and federal money.

Many school administrators and teachers say
laptops in the classroom have motivated even
reluctant students to learn, resulting in higher
attendance and lower detention and dropout rates.

But it is less clear whether one-to-one computing
has improved academic performance as measured
through standardized test scores and grades
because the programs are still new, and most
schools have lacked the money and resources to evaluate them rigorously.

In one of the largest ongoing studies, the Texas
Center for Educational Research, a nonprofit
group, has so far found no overall difference on
state test scores between 21 middle schools where
students received laptops in 2004, and 21 schools
where they did not, though some data suggest that
high-achieving students with laptops may perform
better in math than their counterparts without.
When six of the schools in the study that do not
have laptops were given the option of getting
them this year, they opted against.

Mark Warschauer, an education professor at the
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/u/university_of_california/index.html?inline=nyt-org>University
of California at Irvine and author of “Laptops
and Literacy: Learning in the Wireless Classroom”
(Teachers College Press, 2006), also found no
evidence that laptops increased state test scores
in a study of 10 schools in California and Maine
from 2003 to 2005. Two of the schools, including
Rea Elementary, have since eliminated the laptops.

But Mr. Warschauer, who supports laptop programs,
said schools like Liverpool might be giving up
too soon because it takes time to train teachers
to use the new technology and integrate it into
their classes. For instance, he pointed to
students at a middle school in Yarmouth, Me., who
used their laptops to create a Spanish book for
poor children in Guatemala and debate Supreme Court cases found online.

“Where laptops and Internet use make a difference
are in innovation, creativity, autonomy and
independent research,” he said. “If the goal is
to get kids up to basic standard levels, then
maybe laptops are not the tool. But if the goal
is to create the George Lucas and
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/j/steven_p_jobs/index.html?inline=nyt-per>Steve
Jobs of the future, then laptops are extremely useful.”

In Liverpool, a predominantly white school
district of nearly 8,000 students, one in four of
whom qualify for free or reduced lunches,
administrators initially proposed that every 10th
through 12th-grade student be required to lease a
laptop, but decided to make the program voluntary
after parents protested. About half the students
immediately signed up; now, three-quarters have them.

At first, the school set up two tracks of classes
laptop and non-laptop that resulted in
scheduling conflicts and complaints that those
without laptops had been shut out of advanced
classes, though school officials denied that. In
2005, the school went back to one set of classes,
and bought a pool of 280 laptops for students who
were not participating in the lease program.

Soon, a room that used to be for the yearbook
club became an on-site repair shop for the 80 to
100 machines that broke each month, with a
“Laptop Help Desk” sign taped to the door. The
school also repeatedly upgraded its online
security to block access to sites for
pornography, games and instant messaging which
some students said they had used to cheat on tests.

Maureen A. Patterson, the assistant
superintendent for instruction, said that since
the laptop program was canceled, she has spoken
to more than 30 parents who support the decision
and received five phone calls from parents saying
they were concerned that their children would not
have technological advantages. She said the high
school would enlarge its pool of shared laptops
for in-class use, invest in other kinds of
technology and also planned to extend building
hours in the evening to provide computer access.

In a 10th grade English class the other day,
every student except one was tapping away on a
laptop to look up food facts about Wendy’s,
McDonald’s, and Burger King for a journal entry
on where to eat. The one student without a
computer, Taylor Baxter, 16, stared at a
classmate’s screen because she had forgotten to bring her own laptop that day.

But in many other classrooms, there was nary a
laptop in sight as teachers read from textbooks
and scribbled on chalkboards. Some teachers said
they had felt compelled to teach with laptops in
the beginning, but stopped because they found
they were spending so much time coping with
technical glitches that they were unable to finish their lessons.

Alice McCormick, who heads the math department,
said most math teachers preferred graphing
calculators, which students can use on the
Regents exams, to laptops, which often do not
have mathematical symbols or allow students to
show their work for credit. “Let’s face it, math
is for the most part still a paper-and-pencil
activity when you’re learning it,” she said.

In the school library, an 11th-grade history
class was working on research papers. Many
carried laptops in their hands or in backpacks
even as their teacher, Tom McCarthy, encouraged
them not to overlook books, newspapers and academic journals.

“The art of thinking is being lost,” he said.
“Because people can type in a word and find a
source and think that’s the be all end all.”

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At 08:21 AM 5/5/2007 -0700, you wrote:
>I hope people can access this article. I am not sure.
>There is a lot worth discussing here. Contrasting what laptops are
>ordinarily used for and the kinds of
>activities that Donna is developing using Second Life and others are
>developing (David Shaffer, Jim Gee)
>etc raises a lot of good opportunities to discuss mediation and the
>organzation of activity. But first,
>can you access the article??
>mike
>
>---------- Forwarded message ----------
>From: sc.ivs@cbs.dk <sc.ivs@cbs.dk>
>Date: May 5, 2007 7:37 AM
>Subject: NYTimes.com: Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops
>To: lchcmike@gmail.com
>
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>* EDUCATION * | May 4, 2007
>* Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops
><http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/04/education/04laptop.html?ex=1179028800&en=9c2c180fe002a707&ei=5070&emc=eta1>
>*
>By WINNIE HU
>A handful of schools are abandoning one-to-one computing programs as
>educationally empty — and worse.
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