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A Laptop For Every Student?

New York City has begun a pilot project to provide laptop computers for every student in seven middle schools on the Upper West Side. During this pilot phase, which will be completed in the fall, students will only have access to their laptops at school. But this could change as the program evolves. Indeed, the goal is eventually to have enough laptops for each and every student in every public middle school throughout New York City.

How much will this experiment cost?

The projected budget for launching it this year is $1,300,000.

Who’s paying for it?

The city’s taxpayers are footing about a third of the bill, but Apple Computer, Intel and other corporations have donated equipment, training and funds, and Mouse, a New York City non-profit that specializes in technology in schools, is coordinating further fundraising efforts.

What will providing a laptop for every student achieve?

Councilmember Gale Brewer, who spearheaded this experiment, lists five ambitious goals:

  • Increased technology literacy
  • Increased engagement of students in their schoolwork
  • Lowered rates of absenteeism
  • Decreased disciplinary problems
  • Improved student achievement in all core curriculum areas

What proof is there that it works?

Maine now supports such a program throughout the entire state, and has studied the effects on teaching habits and educational outcomes.

Teachers in Maine have successfully integrated technology into their interactions with students, with such approaches as appending “electronic sticky notes” on student papers. Students have developed sophisticated Web sites to document their research efforts, which are often about an aspect of life in their home communities. Overall, teachers observe in their students a higher level of engagement and lower level of absenteeism (in pdf format), particularly among students who were struggling in school before.

Educational researcher Saul Rockman, who has studied the effects of laptop programs throughout the country, says that Maine’s experience is not unusual. Rockman has seen that use of laptops leads to greater collaboration among students, a higher level of productivity, and even a greater interest in writing.

There is still no proof, though, that increased use of laptops boosts achievement on standardized tests. Therefore, it is fair to say that the goal of “improved student achievement in all core curriculum areas” for the city schools is theoretical.

Still, enough evidence has emerged to turn around such initially skeptical educational leaders as Mark Gura. “I’m a convert,” says Gura, who was formerly the head of the New York City Board of Education’s Office of Instructional Technology, and is now in the employ of Fordham University. He is a consultant to the pilot project, which is officially called “One-to-One in Ten” (because it establishes a ratio of one-to-one laptop to student, and because it’s taking place in School Region Ten).

Gura views the project as a “laboratory model” and hopes to help gather data -- such as what lesson plans worked and which didn’t – that can translate into “guidance and support,” to assist other middle schools throughout the city that may choose to establish their own 1-to-1 laptop programs. Such a program is likely to remain optional, but, Gura notes, a laptop in every student lap is becoming the “international norm” – and why, he asks, shouldn’t it be the norm in a world-class city like New York?

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