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Computer Age: Dearborn Schools Grapple With Technology Needs, Costs

With the nature of technology’s role in education in constant flux, how can Dearborn Public Schools keep up when funding is scarce, and residents have limited resources?

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.”

AC September 14, 2012 at 12:27 PM
Why do you mention the large cars and smart phones? Can you determine from a person's vehicle whether or not their child receives a subsidized lunch? As for smart phones, they are ubiquitous. Virtually everyone, rich or poor, has smart phones. You are too quick to make judgments.
Lee Jacobsen September 14, 2012 at 02:57 PM
AC, if parents can afford large cars and luxury phones, they can surely afford the $3-$4 dollars to feed their kid lunch. It is the same scenario with food stamps and drug testing. If a family can afford to buy illegal drugs, they can afford to buy milk and bread for their family. If they test positive for drugs, give them the boot. Does it hurt their kids? You bet it does...and those kids deserve better parents. How to fix the problem? Use vending machines, operated by cards, in the students name, for food. Then at least the food gets to the kids. Many parents are just taking the food stamp cards and converting them to other uses. All that conversion cheats the true folk that need those services, and robs the taxpayer, which is you and me,,,,provided you are not part of the nearly 50% that don't pay any Federal taxes in the first place. The USA has way too many entitlements, and way too few folk paying taxes to pay for them. Soak the rich? They can afford it. Ever have a poor person hire you for a decent job? That's like cutting down the tree with the golden apples. The rich will just stop taking risks, opening businesses, and go elsewhere, like Ireland, where taxes are one fourth, or England, at half of the USA Federal tax rate. Jobs go overseas as a result. You are left with nothing.... How to fix.? Lower taxes, make overseas companies come to the USA to save on taxes instead. More jobs for everyone. Learn computers for a job.
Concerned Taxpayer September 17, 2012 at 11:36 AM
I am sorry but I do not think it is the parents responsibility to provide their child with a computer so that they can have an online textbook. If the District wants to go that route then they should be the one providing the computer. Not everyone has internet. I am also in the 30% that pays for my children's lunches. What is more outrageous to me is that the District feels that it is more important to get rid of PAY to PLAY for sports which is an EXTRA CURRICULAR ACTIVITY! The schools 1st job is to EDUCATE children. These parents who complain about paying for their child or children to play a sport is RIDICULOUS! Even if they cut from 75 to 35.50 or 350 for a family to 175 for a family. That equates out to being 6.25 a month down to 2.96 a month or 29.17 a month to 14.58 a month. Seriously all these parents can either stop eating out once or twice a month, not buy one 12 pack of beer or so a month, and so on. I pay for my daughters to do dance and my son to play soccer. As a parent if I want my child to be involved in an EXTRA CURRICULAR activity that is my responsibility. The District only brings in 150K in fees but spends between 1.5 and 2 million on sports. Are sports good for kids to be involved in? Yes! Is it the districts responsibility to pay for the sports that are an extra curricular activity? NO!!!
Concerned Taxpayer September 17, 2012 at 11:45 AM
How about the fact that so far this school year I have spent around 300+ dollars already so that my children's teachers did not have to spend their own money. The district has Tightened the budget and made it harder for teachers to get supplies. Not to mention they implemented this new Behavior system when the Superintendent himself DOES NOT FOLLOW the SAME SYSTEM! He was RUDE and OBNOXIOUS to his Teachers and Principles in his message to them before the school year started. He wants to eliminate BULLYING then HE NEEDS to PAY ATTENTION to his OWN System and Not tell his Teachers to either Achieve or Leave in a Threatening manner! His very own Secretary made in 2011 around 59K just in Salary. When you add in her Benefits and Pension she made over 90K. The fact that Everyone gets the same Pension as the Teachers is ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS!!!!! Sorry but I do not think that Secretaries, the ADMINISTRATION Building, Custodians, Bus Drivers, and so on are ENTITLED to the Same pension as those that are EDUCATING OUR CHILDREN! I am also a big supporter of the Administration of multiple school districts being combined to eliminate redundancy. Then the CURRICULUM PLANNING should be COMPLETELY TURNED OVER TO THE TEACHERS in the CITY!! Because EVERY DAY MATH is HORRIBLE!!!!!!!!! Math is a Mastery subject and yet they expect all kids to learn 5 ways to subtract, 3 or so ways to add, 3 for Multiplication, and 3 for division. Teachers should choose Curriculum NOT Administrators!
Concerned Taxpayer September 17, 2012 at 12:13 PM
I would rather Parents be responsible for ensuring their child gets to school and ELIMINATE the school buses! That would be a HUGE savings! We need smaller class sizes in K-2nd especially. Allowing class sizes to get to 32 before adding a teacher is RIDICULOUS! But if you ask the Superintendent there is no rule. That is a LOAD OF CRAP! I can tell you right now that on a regular basis instead of Hiring more teachers to decrease the class sizes in the Lower grade levels they just give the teachers a very small amount of money. Let's not forget that if your child is bright they can be left to become board in school because the school district ONLY CARES about catching up those that are having problems!!! The teachers also should be evaluated by having Parent's do an evaluation, Students do an evaluation, Peers do an evaluation, and the children should take a test at the start of the year and at the end of the year and see how much knowledge that child has gained. This is a better way to evaluate a teacher then off the STUPID MEAP test!

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