Maine-ly Devoid of Numbers

Another Oh, Boy, Maine 8th Graders Have Laptops story. You'll note that the story teases us that there have been noticeable results. But when you read the article, you find vague statements by administrators and only a single concrete anecdotal piece of information with a number in it from one school.One administrator notes 2 detention notices this year versus 30 last year. Since those are not objective measurements -- other policy changes could have helped, or the computers could have reduced rowdiness just enough to lower the threshold or the administrator could have been under pressure to not issue detention notices in order to keep the computer project a success -- this doesn't tell us squat. This is another in a series of articles in many publications that have a positive tone about the value of the 8th grade Maine laptop program without any quantitative results. The writer does point out that people are looking five years down the line: does this increase college attendance? The writer doesn't point out that money has been put into laptops at a rate that, if applied to remedial education, preschool programs, and tutoring, could conceivably have helped students more immediately. As a technology guy, I love the idea that kids are being more directly exposed to the kind of interaction that will dominate their working life if they wind up in any white collar job, and will be part of their life in any blue collar job. But I wish they were actually treating this as an experiment -- the article said they were gathering lots of information -- so that it was possible to judge whether the $37 million spent for this program couldn't have been better used elsewhere. The article notes in that in Freeport, 90 percent of the kids have computers at home, but more remarkably, in a rural city surveyed, 35 percent have them. The schools ostensibly have computer labs. Why do kids need computers, which can distract not focus attention, every hour of the day in school? Anyone who has attended a conference recently with Wi-Fi access and sufficient electricity has heard the sound of blogging and work during every session, noticed downturned heads typing: that light rain sussuration that falls on the blog and the unblog alike. Does this need to be in the schools? Computers are a tool, not an answer.