Governor Rounds took his own hits in the newly passed budget. South Dakota's Classroom Connections program, the one-to-one laptop initiative, was zeroed out of the budget, and even the stimulus couldn't save it. Pierre will still provide tech support for the schools like Madison that have already bought into the program, but no new schools will be added to the laptop rolls, at least not on the state's dime.
This is a disappointment for Governor Rounds, who included one-to-one laptops in his 2010 Education Initiative goals. But the budget crunch forced him to answer the question, "Are one-to-one laptop initiatives worth the effort?"
As we've discussed previously, that's an open debate. Promoters of such programs can find some research suggesting improvements in quality and quantity of schoolwork assigned, writing quality, and overall test scores. Laptop detractors can find retorts on academic achievement from various school administrators, the New York Times ("After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement — none"), and our own Department of Education have spoken to the contrary.
Perhaps the question is not whether students gain from using laptops but whether they lose from losing them. There is an argument that you can't not know how to use the latest technology in the information economy, just as a farmer can't not know how to use a combine in the ag-industrial economy. Of course, there's also a passionate argument to be made against such technological determinism (cue Wendell Berry, Kirkpatrick Sale, Rebecca Terk, and my wife).
Alas, Americans' religious faith in technological progress is likely too strong for even the recession to break. But technological progress (it's not all bad!) and the economic downturn will combine to bring cheaper computers to the classroom. $1300 per computer per child? Come on. As the state money disappears, local districts are about to discover that instead of buying $1300 computers with 2:1 matching funds from Pierre, they can get $200–$400 netbooks with their own money with no strings from Pierre and still save money. Elkton's doing it; Madison, Arlington, and other schools (so I hear) are considering it.
The death of the state laptop program will not mean the death of laptops in the classroom. As our Gateway Tablet PCs die (and they will die quickly), schools will get creative and replace them with better, cheaper netbooks that will still bring students and teachers all the tools they need to make learning happen.
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