Some Schools Give Up Laptops

I feel a bit vindicated via this New York Times story about how some schools are starting to reassess or cancel their student laptop programs. I have been writing for years in this blog about how the squishy, poorly stated goals, and terribly measured outcomes of giving every student in a school or class year a laptop computer was a terrible misuse of funds. Yes, computers. Yes, education. Yes, even some business training on standard principles, operating systems, and software. But, no, no, no, on integrating a laptop into general classes. Far better to buy textbooks that can be used and shared among many students. Far better to improve lab equipment. Far better to reduce student to teacher ratios.

The Times article cites a number of studies as well as experiences at individual schools that show no improvements in grades, performance, etc., and a lot of additional costs in dealing with inevitable accidental damage and wear and tear. Laptops are already sensitive: my Apple laptop has gone back four times under warranty for repairs.

The article cites the old canard: "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."

Right--and when pressed for these cold, hard numbers, they never materialize.

Less Laptop Enthusiasm in Schools

Alexandria, Virg., doesn't view laptops for every student in a high school as unalloyed joy. As usual, those trying to gain or continue funding state vague, unsupported details about advancement. I love how Don Knezek, chief executive of the International Society of Technology Education "cited statewide programs in Maine and Michigan, among others," which is hilarious, because every single result I've seen out of Maine--including in-depth studies--has inconclusive or subjective results.

And, as usual, teacher training has come long after computer deployment. "...some teachers say they have felt pressured to emphasize laptops, even when using them might not be the best approach."

Hazlett on Throwing Laptops at Kids

Hazlett says eloquently in the Financial Times what I believe. Pushing technology at children with no goal, no measurable (objective, social, or subjective) results, and little training for teachers is a waste of money unless you're training drones for office jobs. Which maybe we are and don't want to say.

I'd rather my son spend years learning to draw than years learning to PowerPoint, a restrictive interface that limits everyone's thought processes and creativity by defining one path for communications.

Two Years Out, Maine Laptop Program Still Has No Measurable Results

The folks who defend the program to spend tens of millions of dollars in a largely rural state to provide loaner laptops (not ones they eventually own or keep year to year) to middle-school students are still squishy. I've written about this in years past, with my disappointment that there is no quantitative improvement, no objective measure that the program provides to show that laptops help in any regard.

The person they hired to evaluate the program bemoans that he has no measures by which to show the program has shown improvement for students because their tests show only memorization results. Sure, but if there's no item in the budget to create tests that show other kinds of analytical improvement you are left with $37 million spent and no proof whether it was spent well.

Most good programs are designed with feedback built in to understand whether a given change produces any result, positive or negative. It's terrible to see reports over and over that Maine did not plan to have any method to measure success. Throw a laptop at the kid, integrate it into the curriculum, and throw up your hands.

How about more teachers, better textbooks, better pre- and post-school programs? You know, things that there are decades upon decades of studies that they show have a measurable effect on kids' lives as kids and adults? Naw, not sexy enough.