MT. VERNON - Thousands of Iowa students returning to class in the coming weeks will get something new to take home. That’s because more and more districts are investing in laptop computers for each and every student to use as their own.
The Center for Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education estimates only four or five school districts in Iowa offered laptops for every student as recently as 2008. This fall, the group estimates 90 to 100 districts will have computers for all students. That’s more than 25 percent of the 355 total school districts in the state.
One district making a large financial commitment to computerization this school year is College Community. Craig Barnum, technology director for the district, said College Community purchased 1,400 laptops for this school year. That’s enough for one for every student grades 9-12. The district spent about $2.2 million dollars for the hardware and software. In addition, the district also hired two new information technology workers to take care of all the new computers. More investments in future years will add more computers in the middle school grades.
Barnum said, “By giving everybody their computer, we think we can leverage change so much faster—how kids interact with teachers and learning in general.”
But not every district is willing to divert technology or local option sales tax money to computers instead of other school needs.
In Mt. Vernon, there’s probably one computer available for every three or four students now. Last spring, the school board seriously considered buying about 350 more laptops. That would have added up to one unit for every middle school and high school student.
But the 5-2 board decision last spring was to hold off that kind of computer purchase until both teachers and district technology employees felt ready to incorporate the technology into everyday instruction.
“We will be moving to some level of an integrated technology,” Superintendent Pam Ewell said adding, “we’re not quite sure what that will look like. That’s what we’ll spend our time doing this year—working with our staff.”
Ewell admits there might be some pressure to completely computerize just to keep up with neighboring districts. Lisbon School purchased computers for every student several years ago. College Community takes that step this fall. Both districts surround Mt. Vernon.
But some students and parents say holding off last spring was probably the correct decision in Mt. Vernon.
Sophomore student Sara Lyon said “I think there are other things we could be spending money on than computers for everybody.” Lyon said she has computer access at home and doesn’t feel the compelling need for a school-issued laptop.
Middle school parent Cherie Guillaume hasn’t heard too many complaints about the school board decision to hold off on laptops for everybody.
“I’ve heard one or two say ‘I can’t believe they didn’t do it’.” But overall, I haven’t heard a big upset about it,” she said.
Mt. Vernon superintendent Ewell said the district would need to pay anywhere from $150,000 to $300,000 a year to lease the hundreds of computers needed to have a 1:1 ratio of students and computers. Purchasing equipment the first year would cost $700,000 with ongoing costs and eventual replacement.She agreed most districts in Iowa are headed in that direction. But the superintend also said without a fully developed plan to make use of all the new computers, the district wouldn’t get a full return on its investment.