The surge of technology integration in our country’s schools continues.
In March, the Los Angeles Unified School district announced it would invest $50M initially, and likely $500M over the next few years, to provide 1:1 technology devices to each of its 660,000 students. Companies like Apple, HP and others are expected to bid on parts of this massive contract – competing to provide the very best in education technology at a price point that schools can afford.
This latest broad-scale, ubiquitous technology integration comes in the wake of many others. Maine’s Learning Technology Initiative began providing Apple laptops to all of the state’s middle school students – and now high school students as well – more than a decade ago. Michigan, North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas and others followed suit with large-scale programs involving multiple districts, schools and grade levels in their K-12 systems.
The LA announcement, though, signals a major domino in the progression of school-based technology integration. It’s the second largest district in the country, with more than six times the total number of public school students and educators in the entire state of Vermont.
The New York City School District is even larger. Nearly twice as large, in fact, and it too is taking important steps. The Associated Press reports in its article “Schools Shift from Textbooks to Tablets” that the District is considering doing away with the $100M it sinks annually into paper textbooks for students to lug around, and instead investing those funds in tablets. Even in a district with 1.1 million students, that kind of money could purchase a new tablet for every single learner every two years.
And of course those tablets can do so much more than a traditional textbook ever could. They can fit all of a student’s books into a single, thin package at a fraction of the weight. They can be constantly updated with the most current information and thinking. They can do double-duty enabling learners to engage electronically in class discussion or take on-the-fly assessments testing for reading comprehension.
In other words, the tablet can fit — and grow with — the learner.
How big of a shift is this really? For the young people who are using these tablets, laptops and other devices, it isn’t one. “Students, unlike some of their parents, aren’t blinking,” the AP article observes. The real shift for them is being asked to leave behind their technology-enabled world and make the backward leap to a clunky, outdated textbook.
It’s imperative that districts, schools, parents, students, foundations like ours, businesspeople, and community members do everything we can to support the transition to digital tools for our learners. We’re chipping away at the digital learning divide here in Vermont as elsewhere around the country, but we still have a very long way to go.
At some point, technology integration in school can no longer be thought of as “an initiative” or “a program”. It needs to be thought of simply as the way we do business.
And lest we think it takes a massive budget or outside funding to make this work, we should look at places like Coachella Valley Unified School District in California, where some of the very poorest schools in the nation rolled out 20,000 iPads for students this year.
The time for widespread, effective technology-supported learning is now. It is who our students are, how they want to learn, and the world in which they live. Onward.
Lauren A. Curry has been the Executive Director of the Richard E. and Deborah L. Tarrant Foundation since 2005.