Billy, ever so keen on making his point, both hits one mark and misses others completely. Real conservatives have intuitively lauded the value these technological initiatives and innovations bring to the classroom. These same real conservatives have questioned the manner in which such programs were introduced as well as the ever-evolving justifications for them. These real conservatives question the cost, and maybe the creative cost accounting processes used in the LCSS with the tech initiatives. In view of these observations, Billy really does miss the point in his thinly veiled chastisement of conservatives on the laptop issue.
Fiscal conservatism isn’t about saving rich people their tax dollars. It is about spending tax dollars wisely. Buying personal laptops for all of the LCSS student population from 3d grade through 12th grade doesn’t pass that muster. Oh, it will look sweet on someone’s resume about his or her innovative use of technology; but as a practical matter, it isn’t that grand a scheme. Nearly every person will use or be affected by computers in every day life. It is a given that teaching how to use computer technologies should be required subjects, much like math, or grammar. Computer use should be integrated into every possible element of curriculum, where prudent. Instructional program innovations should be expanded to gain maximum advantage from technology-based instructional processes such as self-directed learning, asymmetrical learning, and other online or programmed initiatives. These applications will truly expand student horizons, and then leverage the laptops already purchased. As it stands, one high school has received NO benefit from the laptops at all, and the other has to ration their use because of misuse, damage, and theft. Many of the units are reportedly inoperable in the middle schools as well; the use of the remainder is strictly monitored. This appears to limit teacher latitude in their usage. The point should have been, Billy, that the laptops could be integrated and used so much more effectively than they have.
Now as to the cost of the laptops. Billy made the point they weren’t free! But his numbers are off quite a bit. The total cost for these laptops was well over $6M in “Race to the Top” dollars, contrary to Billy’s citation. That same $6M could have been spent on a wide range of people, technologies, texstbooks, etc. In fact, Dr. Moss had to permanently jettison all of our 3rd Grade teachers assistants at about the same time he purchased these laptops. Question is, was that purchase worth the cost?. And, even if the first $5+M Moss spent was from federal sources, the next major replacement purchases and all of the systems support will continue to come from local taxpayer funds.
Maintaining the units, repairing, replacing and ultimately updating them are local costs, in millions of dollars. It’s already well known that the units are not being used as initially announced. They cost more than first reported. They aren’t being used in a cost effective manner by all known indicators. Cost accounting for these systems is very mysterious. The free, although, soon to be expiring, Rosetta Stone licenses, also will need renewing. The headsets that enable students to use Rosetta Stone, were purchased as office furniture, or so the story goes. They are breaking and need replacing. (There is a rumor floating around that some teachers encourage parents to buy their children their own headsets for health purposes, something about lice.) System architectures still aren’t fully in place to support the full use of the systems, and continue to increase technology support costs. Billy captured some of this, but didn’t paint a full picture. But then again, he can’t because that full picture isn’t known publicly.
The laptops program in the LCSS could be really great. The use of those laptops could be at the leading edge of new instructional benefits for LCSS students. The entire initiative could save the tax paying public many more millions than it costs…someday. That day isn’t now. Conservatives in this county DO see the value of technological innovation. They also see public money being poorly spent, questionably accounted for, and dubiously justified. Maybe Billy and his staff of intrepid reporters can do a little investigative journalism and find the answers to some of these issues, since the Lee County Commissioners were unsuccessful in their attempts. (Though, maybe some of the commissioners really didn’t want to know, just as it seems many of the members of the Board of Education don’t seem to want to know.)
Billy, we will patiently await your discovery of the missing information, and we look forward to the day you come back and finish this story.