Kudos to Brian Hicks of the Charleston Post and Courier for highlighting the increasingly troublesome trend of school districts laying out scarce funds for technology that remains unproven in its ability to improve student performance.
Hicks writes that just four months after the Charleston County School Board approved issuing iPads to students in three elementary school classrooms, it has decided to expand the pilot program to two entire schools next year at a cost of $2.1 million.
This comes during a period when the district is facing a massive budget shortfall. And, as Hicks points out, when the academic value of these gadgets has yet to be proven. He adds:
Perhaps what’s most amazing is that the board’s decision was unanimous. That’s a testament to the sales job by district staff, which said iPads will accelerate the achievement of students in a material, uh, digital world.
And who knows, that may be true. It would have been nice to get a full semester’s worth of data before plunging ahead, but the district is merely following a national trend – schools around the country are chucking their textbooks and flocking to touch-screen tablets.
Seems like the money might be better spent on the district’s literacy program. After all, how much can these things really do if kids can’t read the instructions?
The Charleston district isn’t the only one in the state to embrace as-yet unproven educational gimmicks.
In 2009, Greenwood School District 52 paid out more than $9,000 for 25 Amazon Kindle 2s, even though the devices were only going to be used by AP English students and wouldn’t save the district money.
With the cash Greenwood 52 spent on the Kindles, it could have bought thousands of paperback texts, enough to supply classics to a decade or more of high-achieving English students.
A Greenwood 52 official rationalized the expenditure by stating that the idea wasn’t to save money but to put new technology into the hands of AP students before the students get into college, to give them an idea of some of the technology that’s out there.
Yes, because there’s a huge learning curve involved with technology such as Kindles and iPads.
Hicks pointed out that the Charleston County School Board’s $2.1 million purchase is likely just the beginning.
“First of all, if it’s roughly $2 million for two schools, how much is the cost going to be to outfit all 70-odd schools with these things?” he writes. “Apple is only giving educators a 10 percent discount.”
Hicks says maintenance costs also need to be factored in.
“How long are high-end electronics going to last in the hands of elementary school kids?” he asks. “Take a look at your average textbook, and you’ll see all the corners are dented. That’s because kids drop books, and they’ll drop these things – at about $500 a pop.
“For the moment, it’s really unclear if the benefits outweigh the costs here, and it’s a bad economic climate for gambling,” Hicks adds. “Right now, the only group certain to benefit from this idea is Apple stockholders.”