It’s a transition that most individuals have faced at home or in their workplace: People email instead of using the U.S. Postal Service, they pay bills online, shop online—they even read books online.
But in public education, transitioning classrooms to a 21st century environment of electronic readers, laptop computers, and connectivity at school and at home is an endeavor that invites more questions than answers.
At Dearborn Public Schools, a plan was put into place in 2009 to bring more technology into the classrooms at its 32 facilities, but weighing current needs against the needs of the future continues to be a balancing act, said Troy Patterson, the technology director for the 18,500-student district.
“Our plan is comprehensive, but there is significant expense associated with technology,” he said. “Another issue is that technology is constantly changing, which means that expense is not going to end.”
Computing the future
Dearborn Schools’ technology plan for 2012-2015 calls for about $7.9 million in expenditures. In the past three years, according to the plan, $36 million has been spent on technology.
The plan presents an overall vision for how the district will use and implement technology, including outlining what technology instruction will take place at different grade levels, to fostering an understanding of technology can be used every day, to using computer-based assessment tools to monitor student progress.
This year alone, $192,397 in software and equipment purchases were approved by the Dearborn Board of Education. Those purchases included:
- Thirty Apple iMac computers and software care protection and help desk support packages for for $55,589.81;
- Apple iPads and iPad learning labs for for $27,858;
- Seven refurbished Dell Power Edge R710 computer servers for $27,000;
- A computer-based online literacy package called “English Discoveries” that is used in ESL classrooms for $29,469; and
- A three-year renewal of VMware virtualization software for the Media Service Department; the software allows for the one physical server to create several virtual servers. The cost is $28,829;
- The software-based Practical Assessment Exploration System from Talent Assessment Inc. for the Michael Berry Career Center. The program helps students discover suitable careers, and costs $23,652;
But the district also paid McGraw-Hill publishers $178,520 for textbooks for the Everyday Math program—a move at least one school board member questioned.
“I always thought with the net we would become a paperless society,” said School Board President Mary Lane. “We see these quarter of a million dollar book purchases all of the time, and we’re looking to save money wherever we can. Books take terrible wear and tear, and they’re (eventually) out of date.”
Patterson said it’s likely to be a while before Dearborn Schools eliminates textbooks all together.
“There’s going to be some overlap, and right now, it’s best for students to have the textbooks so we can prepare them,” said Patterson. “It’s going to take time, and it’s going to be very expensive."
What is typical?
Area school districts are implementing technology as fast as they can, but for some districts, tying homework assignments, teacher communications and other aspects of classwork to a computer that is attached to a wireless network is a long way off. And because most districts cannot provide a laptop to each student, such a plan would be difficult to implement.
In Dearborn—where roughly 70 percent of students receive a free or reduced lunch—many families cannot afford to supply a computer.
“That is something we’re going to have to take into consideration going forward,” said Patterson. “Times are tough right now.”
In some private schools, grants and partnerships have paved the way where traditional funding could not.
At , a partnership between the school the University of Michigan College of Engineering provides third through eighth grade students a Nexus7 tablet to use as part of their education activities, said Randy Hazenberg, the school’s administrator.
And at , a $60,000 grant from the Archdiocese of Detroit to upgrade its learning technology is helping spur technological growth at the school.
"Today, we are a global world," said Melissa Lambrecht, the principal of Sacred Heart. "I would like to provide our Sacred Heart students with as many opportunities to learn as possible and upgrading technology helps students go beyond the four walls of the classroom.”
Some Michigan public districts have adopted that philosophy, and are receiving flak for asking parents to purchase a computer for their child’s use, such as East Grand Rapids Schools.
Such a program could present challenges to a district like Dearborn Public Schools, said Kathy Hayes, the executive director of Michigan Association of School Boards.
“What we have found is the bigger the district, the tougher it is to introduce a comprehensive and consistent technology plan because everything changes so quickly,” she said. “It’s extremely expensive, which of course makes implementing a plan more difficult.”
Dearborn does get assistance from the Dearborn Education Foundation, which provides grants to individual and schools for several projects; most are technology-related.
Patterson said the challenge of ushering in a new technology age at the schools is a formidable one, but “we’re exploring every option available to us.”