New York Post
City Council Speaker and mayoral frontrunner Christine Quinn wants to play Santa Claus and give every New York City school kid an iPad to replace their textbooks. It’s a billion-dollar boondoggle and the wrong way to spend scarce resources.
With less than a third of the city’s public elementary- and middle-school students passing the latest math and reading tests, New York needs a much smarter approach.
Like countless other politicians in recent decades, Quinn has fallen prey to “shiny object syndrome” — investing in educational technology without a real plan to drive achievement.
Start with the small holes: Quinn says her plan is a “cost-neutral” switch from textbooks, which run about $100 million a year, to iPads for every student. Sorry, this wildly underestimates the real cost of such education technology.
The second-largest US school district, Los Angeles Unified, is budgeting $800 per pupil for a similar initiative. Why? Schools will need wireless Internet installed, and pay staff to keep it and the iPads working. Add in the cost of replacing broken and stolen devices, and the price rises even higher. (Another school district had the foresight to sign “do not purchase” agreements with every area pawn shop before issuing laptops.)
When you consider these maintenance and replacement expenses, giving each of the city’s 1.1 million students an iPad won’t cost $100 million, as Quinn assumes, but likely more than a billion.
But the cost obstacles are surmountable; the far greater problem is that Quinn wouldn’t get the bang for the buck that the city schools need. Her plan lacks vision; it would just swap out textbooks for quickly obsolete technology.
Over the past decade, local, state and federal outlays to equip classrooms with technology has cost American taxpayers over $100 billion — to no discernible effect when it comes to test scores or graduation rates. What’s missing? A strategy to integrate the technology into core instruction.
Rather than shelling out for very expensive and gimmicky technology alternatives like iPads, schools need to change their instructional practices to customize student learning based on data and offer students more opportunities for diverse course and content offerings.
One option is to offer remote classes by expert university professors, a k a Massive Online Open Courses. Students with advanced interest in higher-order math or Ancient Greek philosophy could have access to content produced across the globe.
But the bigger sea-change is the technology known as “blended learning,” using software to customize and direct learning based on each student’s needs, so that he or she gets the right lesson at the right time.
Done right, blended learning lets teachers use timely and accurate student data to deliver targeted lessons. The approach flags the fact that, say, Johnny hasn’t learned fractions, and provides clear options for different lessons that can do the trick. It’s a vital aid to teachers, who are so often overwhelmed with the data- and classroom-management parts of their job.
The results have been astounding. High-quality blended-learning schools like inner-city Los Angeles’ KIPP Empower are outpacing their peers, especially the ones serving historically underperforming groups.
Blended learning and online courses have another benefit — they can be offered at a lower cost than traditional schooling. With New York City schools already under severe budget pressure, the ability to reduce per-pupil costs while delivering high achievement and enrichment is a win-win for taxpayers.
For taxpayers and students in New York City, investing in a real technology plan, not a billion-dollar iPad binge, would produce real value.
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