Six months after Maine began a controversial program to provide iBooks to every seventh grader in the state, educators are impressed by how quickly students and teachers have adapted to laptop technology,
the New York Times reports. Attendance is up, detentions are down, and several “unexpected benefits” have been found, the article adds. (To read the complete article, you’ll need to sign up for a free online subscription to the Times.)
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Last fall, 7th grade students and teachers in 239 schools across Maine received iBooks to kick off the school year. In January 2002 Apple negotiated a contract with the Maine Department of Education to provide 36,000 iBook systems to seventh and eighth grade students and teachers across the state. Part of the Maine Learning Technology Wireless Classroom Solution, the effort’s goal is to make Maine students “become one of the most digitally capable groups in the world.”
The statewide effort was controversial, according to former state governor Angus King. “People hated it. They thought it was extravagant; they thought the kids wouldn’t take care of the computers.”
An early opponent was Chellie Pingree, then the State Senate majority leader and soon to be the president of Common Cause, a government watchdog group based in Washington. Now she deems the program a success though some critics still think the money could be better spent in the tough economy climate, according to the Times.
Conceived before the economy bottomed out, the laptop initiative was originally planned as a US$50 million effort that would let seventh graders take the computers with them through graduation. Now that the funding has been whittled down to $37.5 million, the students will keep their iBooks through the eighth grade, then turn them in (new seventh graders will get new iBooks), the Times reports.
Educators say that problems have been minimal, with little breakage, theft or loss while teachers and parents feel the rewards have been impressive, the article adds.
“Improved college attendance five years from now would be a measure of the program’s success, but for now, educators are collecting all the information they can and are awaiting year-end test scores,” the article concludes. “In other parts of the country, smaller programs have had a significant effect: In Henrico County, Va., where 24,000 students in grades 6 through 12, have laptops, test scores have risen and dropout rates have fallen.”
Henrico schools teamed with Apple and launched the Teaching and Learning Technology Initiative. iBooks were deployed to all high school students and teachers at the beginning of the 2001-02 school year. Last November the county’s public school system was named the first winner of the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) Trailblazer award for the school system’s Teaching and Learning Technology Initiative. The award was due, in part, to their laptop initiative program. Created by the NSBA and a review panel of educators, the Trailblazer award recognizes “extraordinary leadership in the area of educational technology.”