City Plans a Laptop for Every Student

Charlottesville Schools are looking at providing a laptop to every middle and high school student, Brandon Shulleeta writes in the Daily Progress. They already provide enough computers in the schools to have one for every two students—this would instead provide one dedicated one for each student, doubling the number of computers. The idea is to gradually roll them out, rather than introducing thousands all at the same time (because then they all age out at the same time). It would cost between $500,000–$1,000,000, though it’s thought that much of that cost would be offset by the reduction in textbook expenses, by moving to electronic texts. Superintendent Rosa Atkins told the school board that some of their vendors are moving to exclusively electronic texts, and that Charlottesville students will be left behind if the city schools don’t change with the times.

Whether they’ll go the Mac or Windows route isn’t decided, but I hope they go with both. Though there’s no such thing as a Mac virus, making it their total cost of ownership much cheaper, establishing a monoculture is just looking for trouble. Best to let kids pick from the two, going with whatever they’re already comfortable with.

17 thoughts on “City Plans a Laptop for Every Student”

  1. You hope they go with both?? While i like the egalitarian idea behind that, the administration/support headaches would be way to high. While i like Macs and maybe they have come a long way on the organizational management side which i don’t believe it true they should go with windows, simply for the administration tools.

    I knew a couple people involved with the disaster in Henrico where they gave each kid a Macbook. That was an utter failure on every account, mainly because of the lack of administration tools and the lack of administrators/support staff trained on the Mac.

    They should provide each kid with a netbook, would be a good starting point, the hardware is reasonably priced and i imagine with volume pricing they could get in the ~$300 range. Set up a domain at the school the ensures that that they have the latest anti-virus software and software updates. In fact the students could have two logins, one that is school related and limits what can be run (no instant messenger or games for instance) and a second login that would not log them onto the domain at school (so no internet) that they can install other programs on.

  2. I’m skeptical on several fronts. I know of a county school that switched over entirely to Macs (teachers and admin) a few years ago, and I still run into teachers who profess bafflement and frustration over using Macs. PCs by and large are what they’re used to, and even though they’re teachers and you’d think they’d as a group be able to surmount the learning curve…well, you’d be surprised.

    Second, I’m wondering why the kids need the full power of a full-featured computer in their hands at all times. If the point is to switch over to electronic texts instead of traditional textbooks, it seems there are other, cheaper devices that could work.

    Third, I’m kind of with Dahmius on this: I could see a lot of laptops going missing.

    Fourth, I’ve read a lot of articles arguing that the only thing that really improves a classroom experience is the quality of the teacher–not technology, not teacher-student ratio, not the furnishings, etc. i’m not a hard-core back-to-basics person (give ’em a wooden chair, a desk, and slate, and piece of chalk!) but I do wonder if ActiveBoards and computers and all that are not distractions from the issues that matter more.

  3. I sure wish some of this million dollars could go to support the excellent arts programs in C’ville city schools. We have a phenomenal music program, and the visual arts are excellent as well. This is done with the support of a lot of grants, donations, and booster help. To their credit, the school board has supported the arts thus far. But it would be nice to have the arts programs better funded. I honestly can’t see how giving out a bunch of laptops is going to help our kids.

  4. why not make the laptop program means-tested?

    plenty of kids already have laptops at home, and have plenty of access to the skills acquisition they need to make those laptops as functional and beneficial as possible.

    Oh, and why not make the receipt of said laptop be contingent upon participation in a training opportunity to ensure that those kids without access to computers and skills get the skills before handing them a computer?

    and, even better idea, why not make the program a non-profit community-based program that matches kids to mentors and computer equipment? Why not call that program something catchy like “Computers4Kids?”

    I think the netbook idea, or an ereader (Nook/Kindle) is a great idea. But, the laptop initiative will be sorely lacking in some of its impact if they don’t find a way to ensure that all children have access to high-speed internet someplace near home. That is the real digital divide in this community, since C4K can and does provide a lot of kids with training and equipment. Once they get their computer, they have no way to use said computer to access the internet–which severely limits their ability to do research and participate in on-line educational initiatives. (like the online Chinese class, or the online science class–both partnerships with Albemarle.)

  5. This initiative could be coupled with free municipal wifi – basically an expansion of the downtown mall service to the rest of the city. 10 square miles isn’t a lot, and maybe Google or Microsoft would chip in in exchange for getting a fixed home page on the laptop browsers or something like that. I agree with other commenters that state-of-the-art computers are not necessary. Only video games need that kind of power.

  6. I think this is a huge waste of money.

    These laptops will be destroyed in weeks. Look at the ways kids treat text books. The way that people “use” (treat) a resource is directly proportionate to the cost of that resource – there is ample evidence for dramatic changes in the way people treat resources with even a tiny, token cost associated with it.

    I don’t believe it should be “means-tested” in the common usage of that expression: the option of last resort which is “free” to those who can’t afford anything (or anything better), and unavailable to anyone who might actually be paying for it through taxes. This creates a second-class citizenry and divides the public. If we are going to provide a benefit with public dollars, then we should provide it for everyone – and provide a class/quality of service that everyone would want. “Means testing” is a stalking horse for undermining public support for public programs by dividing the tax-payers from beneficiaries. If we are going to implement a public policy, let’s not implement a deliberately broken one – either do it right or don’t do it.

    If there is a great instructional value (and I question that) in students having expanded access to computer screens, then it’s an argument for larger computer labs in schools and public libraries – not for handing out laptops. I’d like to get a look at the proposed budgets for this, and make a hard-nosed comparison with the costs of staffed labs – there is often a very high support cost associated with keeping computers in good enough working order for instructional purposes. This is particularly true if the users of that equipment don’t have some skin in the game (an incentive to take care of things).

    If it is true that issuing laptops is cheaper than equipping labs (and there are barriers-to-access arguments in favor of letting kids take the machines home, to be sure), then I believe we need to look at the original school lunch model for figuring out how you get it right on the pricing/subsidy and providing a product that is good enough that people aren’t opting out just because they have the means to do so.

    The textbook thing is interesting. I’m curious to see whether a) it’s really true that we won’t be able to get quality texts or b) whether the cost savings really are that great.

  7. So maybe there’s a rental fee like there is for orchestra instruments. Like instrument rental rates could be linked to free and reduced lunch status. Maybe.

    I brought this up at a PTO meeting tonight where we were fortunate enough to have a school board member present. The laptops being proposed are more like netbooks. The textbook line-item for next year’s school budget is over $300,000. When I reflect on the recent history book misprint and how long it will take for that to be corrected… I know in the past publishers have sent stickers out to replace inaccurate text as an interim solution until the reprint can be done. I can remember some absolute howlers of errors in textbooks I was subjected to decades ago and the exponential growth in the pace of change since then makes this a better and better idea.

    I absolutely agree that the real divide is between students with internet access and those without it. High school can no longer be navigated without access to the internet. And neither can the job market.

  8. You hope they go with both?? While i like the egalitarian idea behind that, the administration/support headaches would be way to high.

    Nah. I know folks who support mixed environments for other educational systems, and they prefer it. It lowers support costs if you have kids using the platform that they’re already familiar with, and it reduces significantly the impact of OS-level problems (a bad update, a virus, etc.) if it’s limited to only a subset of all of the systems.

    While i like Macs and maybe they have come a long way on the organizational management side which i don’t believe it true they should go with windows, simply for the administration tools.
    I knew a couple people involved with the disaster in Henrico where they gave each kid a Macbook. That was an utter failure on every account, mainly because of the lack of administration tools and the lack of administrators/support staff trained on the Mac.

    That was a decade ago, and those systems were running Mac OS 9—an ancient version that shares literally zero code with the current version. You should really revisit Mac OS X—it’s now an administrator’s dream.

  9. This may actually be a cost saving initiative if it replaces the need to purchase rediculously expensive textbooks. Kids taking them home may still be a concern.

  10. Scott–I actually don’t have a problem with all students being given their laptop if we have the money for such activities. I think it is reasonable to do some sort of spin-off on how colleges now do it–your tuition covers your laptop your first year, so that those on financial aid get it covered in their aid allotment rather than paying out of pocket. Obviously, there isn’t a tuition cost, so it would need to be more creative than that at CHS.

    Maybe something along the lines as the orchestra and band rental option, though I suspect the Constitution of Virginia will have issues with a rental fee for something that is required for participation in academics. Those student fees wax and wane as civil rights groups fight the rising cost. as they rise, more legal challenges develop–then, they drop, and the challenges drop until the fees increase again to a point where they get challenged again.

    Since free/reduced price status is supposed to be confidential, it is actually problematic to use it as a marker for other programs. It happens all the time, but it is problematic. When I taught, we didn’t actually use it, though we probably said we did. We just gave the items to kids whose parents said the fee was a hardship, regardless of their lunch status. Which makes sense, since the laptop rental might be significantly more than a month of lunches…

  11. It is a very succesful endeavor in Richmond, VA. J.R. Tucker High School uses them and J.R. Tucker is in the heart of the city. It’s about time Charlottesville City Schools looked outside the little box!

  12. Hope it works. My daughters live on their laptops (Apple) for schoolwork.

    Still, so many kids in CHS seem to have trouble finding their belts that I fear they might also lose the laptops. I mean, with one hand holding up their pants, and one hand on cellphone how do they carry a laptop! :-)

    I am curious about the potential need for censorship. Not that I think pictures from dubious websites might end up on the laptops of 15 year old males…..just saying….

    An opt out for the kids would be needed. Our HS daughter has hers, and I would not wish to be further liable.

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