The Ladue School district is currently considering a One-to-One initiative which would provide a leased laptop computer for every high school student. I wanted to express a few of my concerns with this program and get some feedback. My understanding is that the board will only approve the program if they can find enough savings through implementing the program or if the program can be funded through private donations. Although cost is certainly an issue and I feel there are better ways to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars (my son has 31 students in his AP Calculus class and given my choice of a smaller class size or a laptop program, it’s not a difficult choice for me), my primary issue with the One-to-One initiative is the lack of educational value in the program. I can speak from personal experience as my daughter’s school initiated a similar program during her freshman year in high school.
Hundreds of school districts across the country have implemented programs such as this. What is interesting is that a sizeable number of them are now taking the laptops out of the schools after finding there was no improvement in scores. In fact, in some cases, they found their scores had actually gone down.
I believe the number of Ladue students who don’t have access to, or understand, technology is very small. Most have one or more smart phones, iPads, laptops or desktop computers at their disposal. Computers are simply a tool, not an educational strategy.
My daughter graduated from Harvard last year. She lived with 5 girls in her dorm. Three of her roommates went to elite college prep boarding schools which routinely send 70% or more of their students to Ivy League colleges. Of the five girls, only my daughter had used a computer in the classroom. While my daughter and her roommates had laptops, none of them took them to class. In fact, many colleges now ban laptops in the classroom because the professors can’t get the students to pay attention with the world of social media at their fingertips.
One of the reasons given for the one-to-one initiative is that it is “important for students to learn how to communicate, collaborate, solve problems and interact with others in a civil and respectful manner”. I believe this is important, as well. How does technology in the classroom facilitate this collaboration process? Watch a couple of dozen students outside of the gym waiting for their parents to pick them up. You will usually see two dozen heads down looking at a smart phone with no interaction between the students. I want my son engaged in class, debating topics in government, discussing literature, and learning physics from a physics teacher, not a computer.
I see a significant difference in how my employees over 30 years of age interact as compared with those under 30. My “older” workers are much more likely to discuss an issue or work collaboratively to solve a problem than the younger workers, who typically will communicate via email rather than in person. The younger workers often waste time trying to do an Internet search for a solution rather than collaborate with colleagues. There are, of course, multiple studies showing that technology has reduced the ability of people to relate to each other verbally.
My daughter’s experience with the computers at her school was almost laughable. We went to the parents program discussing the initiative and were told things like:
- How do we know the kids won’t be on Facebook or email all day?
“We’ve got everything locked down so that won’t happen.” I asked my daughter the evening of the first day how well things were locked down. She laughed and said students were easily able to access games, Facebook, email, texting, and pretty much anything else that was “locked down” by lunchtime on the first day. She sat near the back in one class and, from her vantage point, estimated 75% of student screens were on something other than the particular link to which the teacher directed them. Not once, mind you, but on a regular basis.
- What happens if a computer breaks down in the middle of a class?
“This won’t be a problem because we’ll have plenty of spares for students to use.” In actuality, this was a huge problem. There were technical issues with the computers on a regular basis. Students forgot to bring them to school. Students forgot to charge the battery. The student is now left without access to the materials until he or she can go to the technology center to get a replacement or help with the computer. What does the student do in this case if instructional materials are only accessible through the laptop? Isn’t this like taking away their textbooks? The first few months of the program at my daughter's school were so bad that they discontinued the use of the computers for several months while they tried to work out the kinks. As the parent of a son who will be a senior next year, I would hate to have him be a part of the first year of a program which will be very disruptive to learning.
- What if my child’s teacher isn’t trained on using the computer?
“Every teacher will receive direct training on using the computers and how to integrate them into their curriculum.” While this may be a true statement, it didn’t solve the problem of teachers not being able to use the computers. My daughter told me entire class periods were sometimes wasted on a teacher trying to help a student get connected to a particular web site. In the Ladue video describing the program, it was mentioned that it was a “cool learning environment” because sometimes the students had to help the teachers with the computers. I’m assuming that the pilot program teachers were well-trained on the computers, correct? If so, the training was clearly inadequate. Frankly, I’d much rather have my son’s math teacher attend a mathematics conference than spend a week learning how to troubleshoot a laptop.
- What if a course doesn’t lend itself to using the computer as part of the curriculum?
“We feel the computer can be used in every classroom and have encouraged our teachers to do so.” In fact, teachers at my daughter’s school were specifically instructed to “find a way” to use the computers in their classroom. I spoke to my daughter’s teachers and the vast majority of them felt the computer was a detriment to their teaching. My daughter’s French teacher simply refused to use the computers. Her first words every morning were (in French) “put the computers away.” Ninety percent of her French AP students, by the way, received a 5 on their AP test so they were apparently able to learn without the aid of the computer. By my daughter’s senior year, only a handful of teachers (none of hers, thankfully) were using the computers in the classroom. My son has contacted more than two dozen teachers at the high school across multiple disciplines and has only found one teacher who was in favor of the program and even she had doubts about whether it would actually improve the student educational experience.
Without teacher support, this program cannot succeed. Were teachers polled to ask if they approved of the program? Were parents polled on their thoughts?
I could go on and on with the problems my daughter experienced with the computer program at her school. In the end, the computers were a detriment to her learning.
Please understand that I feel the Ladue School District is exemplary and I have every hope that it continues in its fine tradition of academic excellence. I feel more study as well as teacher, parent and student buy-in are required before the one-to-one initiative has any hope of being successful.