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DOE plan would give all pupils computers
[October 24, 2012]

DOE plan would give all pupils computers

Oct 24, 2012 (The Honolulu Star-Advertiser - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- The Department of Education wants to provide every public school student with a laptop or computer tablet by 2015 as part of an initiative that would also include training teachers on the devices and buying digital materials that reflect new national Common Core standards for math and reading.

The department is asking for $42 million over the next two years to kick off the ambitious plan, aimed at standardizing curricula across the state, modernizing classroom instruction and phasing out printed textbooks.

"This gives a true statement about how committed we are to making sure our students are college- and career-ready," said Amy Kunz, DOE chief financial officer.

The funding request for the "one-to-one" program is included in a wish list of sorts for the coming fiscal biennium, which was sent to the Governor's Office last week.

Also in the proposed budget request, above and beyond the DOE's current base budget of $1.35 billion, was $12.9 million in fiscal year 2013 to tackle projected increases in enrollment, $5 million over the next two fiscal years for bonuses to teachers in "hard to fill" positions, and $8 million in each of the next two years for student transportation costs.

Altogether, the wish list items would cost an additional $40.5 million in fiscal year 2013 and an extra $35.7 million in fiscal year 2014.

Kunz added that because the laptops and computer tablets would be leased, probably for three-year periods, the initiative will likely require additional appropriations.

"It's going to be a continuous item that we are going to build into our budget," she said.

But Board of Education Chairman Don Horner stressed that it is still early in thebudgetary process and that there will have to be discussions with the executive and legislative branches to determine whether the one-to-one program is the best use of taxpayer dollars.

The BOE approved the department's proposed budget last week, but Horner said he is approaching the one-to-one program cautiously.

"I don't think the nation has done analysis on the return on investment," he said. "We need to weigh that in relationship to all the other priorities in the department. The board's primary objective is to implement Common Core, and that can be done in a variety of different ways, including giving every chid a laptop and a tablet." In his State of the State address in January, Gov. Neil Abercrombie pledged to move forward with a one-to-one laptop program as part of wider efforts to improve Hawaii's school system.

Under the department's plan, devices would be rolled out over three years, starting in the coming school year. Five school complexes -- or about 60,000 students -- would receive laptops or computer tablets annually.

Children in kindergarten through eighth grade would be provided with computer tablets. High-schoolers would receive laptops.

A number of states and school districts have already gone one-to-one with laptops or tablets, and have had mixed success in boosting student achievement.

Onlookers warn that simply handing a laptop to a child likely won't improve learning or revolutionize instruction.

"The thing you don't want to do is drop technology in a classroom and hope it's going to get used," said Mark Hines, who helped implement a one-to-one iPad program at Mid-Pacific Institute this school year.

Hines, now director of Mid-Pacific's Exploratory program, which stresses project-based learning, said professional development for teachers is key to making it clear why instruction needs to change -- then how it needs to change.

"It isn't just continue using technology the same way we used paper," he said.

Punahou School started its one-to-one laptop program nearly a decade ago. Fourth- through 12th-graders lease the devices, said Punahou President James Scott.

"It's an extension of their learning. It's a tool," he said, adding that teacher training has been vital.

DOE officials have started contacting private schools and a handful of Hawaii public schools with one-to-one programs to get advice and input on how to roll out a statewide program.

And this school year, the DOE is kicking off a small one-to-one laptop pilot in Keaau on Hawaii island.

At Keaau Elementary School starting next week, laptops will be available for all students, but children will be able to take the computers home only for big projects.

Keaau Middle School students will kick off a one-to-one program as early as December in core classes.

Keaau Middle Principal Ken Watanabe said the school eventually wants to be able to allow kids to take the laptops with them at the end of the school day, but has to iron out a number of details, including whether students have Internet access at home.

He estimates about 50 percent of students at his school have Internet access at home.

Kunz acknowledged making a one-to-one program a reality is more than just leasing devices, but addressing infrastructure and other issues.

She added that if the statewide one-to-one program is not funded, the DOE plans to continue what it has been doing during a soft rollout of the Common Core standards: have teachers and schools use existing textbooks and add supplemental material to meet the new benchmarks.

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