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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Big surprise in education policy: laptops don't make people smart?

After many schools across the country rushed to bring the Digital Age to every child, many are abandoning their laptop programs. But weren't computers supposed to bring the miracles of technology and efficiency to brighten the prospects of students?
The students at Liverpool High have used their school-issued laptops to exchange answers on tests, download pornography and hack into local businesses. When the school tightened its network security, a 10th grader not only found a way around it but also posted step-by-step instructions on the Web for others to follow (which they did)... officials here and in several other places said laptops had been abused by students, did not fit into lesson plans, and showed little, if any, measurable effect on grades and test scores at a time of increased pressure to meet state standards. (emphasis mine)

There's been plenty of research on what kinds of investments in schools actually work. This study and this study show that teacher credentials and knowledge are some of the best predictors of higher classroom performance by their students. In other words, instead of buying laptops for kids, we could be paying for school for teachers and be seeing results.

Other programs are also showing evidence of success by investing in better methods of teaching, such as this "SMART classroom" in suburban Minneapolis.
Hula hoops hang in one corner of the room. A climbing gym stands in the middle. Bouncing balls, gym mats, trampolines and vibrant colors fill the rest of the room. SMART stands for "Stimulating Maturity through Accelerated Readiness Training." It's a program made up of physical activities that stimulate brain growth in children...

...During the first year, DeCorsey said, teachers could already see a difference. Only 52 percent of third-graders were reading at grade level at the beginning of the year. After four months of the program, that jumped to 90 percent.

But what about cost?
Farnham estimated the district had to spend about $1,000 for all the supplies involved, and training each teacher cost more than $400.
So how about it? You could pick up 4 inexpensive - and completely useless - laptops for education users through Dell for $3,400 or you could buy supplies for two, effective SMART classrooms and train 3 teachers. Oh, and did I mention that teachers don't go obsolete in 3-4 years?

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