What Monett High School's laptop addition means to other school districts

Friday, May 11, 2012

Monett's great experiment, adding laptops for each high school student, has not spread like wildfire to neighboring school districts.

Certainly, there has been interest. The notoriety Monett received as a progressive school district has been significant.

Two real obstacles stand in the way for others. One, the move required a substantial financial investment. Smaller districts in Barry and Lawrence counties seldom have an extra $100,000 in the coffers for a non-essential project. A large number of schools have significant debt anyway from erecting new buildings. In a time when state funding is dubious, significant debt, whether considered a good investment or not, should not be approached lightly.

There's also that nagging question about enrollment levels. Without stable or rising student counts, state funding drops. Monett hasn't had to had to worry about enrollment declines, but other districts have.

The second major issue is straightforward: what do you do with the technology once you get it? This was the issue 20 years ago when computers were introduced. There was a class to teach students basic programming and a few astounding tricks, but no classroom applications.

Now, Monett Middle School students are making films as classroom projects, using digital technology. SmartBoards and Promethean boards are commonplace in classrooms. Teaching methods have been adapted to find ways to use computers as part of the process.

The ground has literally shifted under students' feet. They are taught with computers because their world will revolve around technology. Just look at a kid using a smartphone.

We're seeing smaller districts getting iPads and laptops into classrooms. A few devices represent a smaller investment for the school. Enormous ground has been gained in figuring out how to teach by using technology, which makes students interact with the equipment and the subject matter.

The bigger challenge becomes how to teach children to use the equipment and learn subject matter at the same time. A laptop may be more useful for teaching core subjects, but a smartphone with 100 apps in it may be more useful for teaching technology.

If that is indeed the trend, then students who have neither laptops or smartphones at their disposal will be seriously handicapped competing against those who do in the marketplace. Maybe they can pick it all up in college, but will it take too long to catch up?

There may be scholarships for college available for financially stressed students, but if their school makes a laptop available, the playing field is much more leveled. Without the schools making laptops available to everyone, only affluent families that can afford them would have the advantage. The point of public education is to help all students, and that's the mission Monett school officials said they were fulfilling when the laptops were introduced.

If this is the future, the goal becomes getting students ready in core subject learning and in technology. If so, the time is rapidly coming when smaller school districts will not be able to afford the consequences of graduates who lack technolgy training. The districts will have to follow Monett's lead, or their graduates won't be able to keep up.