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Should All GA Middle School Students Have IPads?

February 20, 2011

Here we go again, politicians trying to drive innovation in the classroom.  11.Alive reports that the Georgia State Legislature is considering a proposal that would fund IPads for all middle school students in the state.  Really!  Is that a good idea?

 Isn’t it likely that politicians are the wrong people to be leading the critical work around educational reform.  Where are the saavy, creative, innovative, and knowledgeable educators?  Are they sitting at the table and saying this is the way to go?  Who is looking at the research tells us what types of educational changes are going to impact student learning?  Politicians think that if you put an IPad in the hands of every middle school student in GA that somehow their learning will be magically transformed.  GA will be catapulted to #1 in the US for educating its students.  I seriously doubt this one change will be what transform education in GA.  

 With GA ranking in the bottom 20% (or lower) of states in its ability to deliver a high-quality education, we need a different type of reform.  IPads (or some other device) might be a small part of the plan, but let’s not be delusional.  Comprehensive educational reform needs to address curriculum, teaching practices, classroom assessment practices, learning environment, funding of education, class size, technology integration, and a few more issues I’m sure. 

Politicians should be in the background encouraging and supporting educational reform that comes out of the teaching profession.  To give you a sense of how deeply the politicians are thinking about effective change, here are some quotes from GA politicians on this IPad plan. 

 For $500 per student per year, Apple can replace those textbooks with a single iPad.

 The reality is, if we try to teach these kids the way we learned, we are going to lose them.  (State Rep. Roger Bruce of House District 64 in Douglas County)

 We spend about $40 million a year on textbooks. Textbooks can be outdated the day you receive them. We have a lot of history textbooks even with current events that don’t even include 9-11.  (State Senate President Pro-Temp Tommie Williams, who represents Georgia’s 19th District, near the South Carolina state line)

 They also will Wi-Fi the system, provide the curriculum, train all the teachers and basically eliminate your need for books in the school system. (Tommie Williams)

 Replacing textbooks with IPads so that students can read electronically may seem 21st Century, but what if the students aren’t interested in reading the material you put on the IPad.   It also seems ludicrous to put in the hands of a major corporation, even one as successful and innovative as Apple, all the technology, curriculum, and training.  Has that ever worked.  Schools tried that with IBM in the early 1990s.  IBM got out of the “technology for schools” business.  We put our curriculum in the hands of major publishing companies.  Most teachers supplement textbook materials because the textbooks do not adequately do the job.

 I would suggest asking some fundamental and important questions.

  •  What are our hopes and dreams for GA students in the classroom?
  • How can we best achieve our hopes and dreams?
  • What about the curriculum we teach, is it meeting the needs of the IGeneration?
  • Are our teachers employing instructional practices that are engaging the IGeneration?
  • What about our classroom assessment practices, are they helping students become more self-directed and engaged learners?
  • What effects does the “high-stakes” testing culture having on the attitude of students towards schools?  Do we care to ask them and what would we do with the information?
  • What about the strategies, education, and resources we provide for families?  Are we doing enough to help families see the importance of supporting their child’s education outside of school?
  • What about poverty and unemployment in the US?

If we don’t address and answer these questions first, designing strategies to create a more innovative and responsive education for children in GA, all the IPads in the world will only flood the system with technology.  Granted, pretty cool technology. 

Look carefully at educational reform over the past 40 years.  Technology has rarely, if ever, solved the challenging problems we have encountered in  the school reform movement.  Technology is merely a tool.  Often a very good and creative tool when put in the hands of resourceful teachers and students, provided they have meaningful things to do with the technology.  

GA has 400 million dollars of Race To The Top funds to spend wisely.  Let’s not let giddy politicians who think IPads are cool divert us from more important reform initiatives.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s possible IPads could play a role, but have we done the research on:

  • how they will be used?
  • what are their limitations?
  • how will we control the apps issues?
  • how will we manage maintenance and upgrades?
  • what curricula will we put on them, the same curricula we use now?

Does the Georgia Department of Education have a 21st Century technology plan for 2010-2015?  Does the plan address how to effectively integrate technology in the classroom and properly train teachers?  If we have a plan, is it driving the agenda and are we sharing it with our p0liticians before they start spending our tax dollars?

I believe that if we let politicians drive the agenda we will waste taxpayers resources.  What do you think?

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