Laptops – Classroom Extravagance?

Montgomery, Virginia, is a city divided. It’s not about race or religion. It’s whether to provide every Montgomery High School student — and teacher — with laptop computers. This month, Montgomery’s residents will vote to decide whether to purchase 1,750 laptops — at a cost of $391,705.

If approved, that cost will be applied to the already-allocated $350,000 for school technology.

To many, the addition of $350K is merely part of the financial status-quo; a moot point to those who recognize that students today both live in and will enter a professional digitized world — making the laptop acquisition a mere financial drop in the bucket to the 2005-2006 $67.9 million school budget.

Dissenters of the plan, however, voice concerns that students already own home computers; the price of fixing “crashed” laptops may be prohibitive; and they won’t be able to monitor what their kids log on to at school.

Montgomery School District Technology Director Gail Palumbo views this issue from a long-term vantage point: She recognizes that the digital world is here, isn’t going anywhere, and that her student body knows it.

The one-to-one computer model the district proposes is already heading toward national popularity, according to Ann Flynn, director of education technology for the National School Boards Association. She doesn’t see student-teacher laptops as a passing trend, but as a solid classroom learning tool in the 21st Century.

The alternative to the seemingly black-or-white situation: a downsized four-to-one program, which would provide laptops for every teacher, two hard-wired desktop computers in each classroom, and one laptop “cart” to be shared among classmates.

But this “lackluster” model just won’t fly, asserts school superintendent Dr. Stuart Schur, who doesn’t believe in teaching halfway. For $400,000 more, the one-to-one plan would prove more financially reasonable in the long term, allowing for mass upgrades and therefore costing less, as is anything bought in “bulk.”