ellohay! West Michigan

‘Laptops for Sixth Graders?’

This is a great article to come across while surfing… I’m actually glad that it was written. I need to hear this kind of stuff.

Take a minute to read an excerpt from this article written back in 2004 titled ‘Laptops for Sixth Graders?’ about a grant offered through Michigan’s Freedom to Learn initiative (FTL), which allocates $68 million for school districts to lease laptops to kids for up to four years:

Placing computers in classrooms is, of course, only the latest educational fad, designed to divert our attention from the real issue, which is what our children actually know once they leave school. Sure, technology is important and students will have to be able to work with computers to be successful in the workforces of today and tomorrow.

But computer skills can be learned without handing out personal computers. They are skills a good percentage of children already know and use on home computers by the time they are in the sixth grade. Bringing any child up to speed who has no computer at home should be a matter of selective targeting, maybe even by giving out a small number of personal computers.

But this should never be confused with measures aimed at improving student academic achievement, particularly when studies have failed to reveal any such relationship. This appears to be another program where money is being spent, simply “because we can.”

Read the entire article posted here on Apr. 6, 2004 by Jeff Steinport

Jeff Steinport is a computer network administrator for Advantage Sales & Marketing of Walker, Mich. and treasurer for the Grand Rapids Board of Education. Jeff is also a member of the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority board.


Alright, so the challenge is to do what? Make sure that when we design this project, that it’s genuinely good, advantageous to be involved with, different. It shouldn’t stink up the place with poor planning, ill informed recommendations, or inappropriate goals.

The frustration is palpable in this article. It would be a terrible thing to evoke similar sentiments in our future clients.

I’m going to speculate (this is only a guess) of the potential downfalls of this program at this time:

• Potentially, the computers were leased, not donated
• Potentially, there was no curriculum in place to integrate the computer as an effective tool
• Potentially, there was no infrastructure for tech support
• Potentially, the training sessions for teachers, students, parents were not in depth enough, or of limited use
• Potentially, there were no clear goals for the introduction of these tools into this environment
• Potentially, students weren’t using them appropriately
• Potentially, they were intrusive in the classroom

If we’re going to do this right, we need to do some serious homework. We need to know needs, desires, concerns from all parties involved. Our goal should be to make this program as seamless as possible, useful, accessible, sustainable, measurable.

Here’s another article titled “Giving Laptops to Sixth Graders Won’t Improve Their Education

Here’s an article discussing why the “State laptop program [was] erased

And last, but not least, the infamous Freedom to Learn website

What other kinds of things would make a program like ours go sour? What could we go so wrong in our plan so far, that would make you as a potential client feel as frustrated as Jeff was?

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3 Responses

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  1. smcmaster said, on May 9, 2008 at 8:23 am

    It’ll take a while to work through these links, but I’m going to respond to one of the ideas in the quote. Admittedly, this is anecdotal. I have a brother who teaches “computers” to middle school students in what seems to be a pretty typical west Michigan public school district. He’s continuously amazed at how low their basic computer skills are coming into the class, and how difficult it is to get them to improve. I suspect the second problem is at least as much getting any students, much less middle school students to learn anything in a classroom…

    So, in preparing public school students for life beyond 12th grade, there is a place for a program which makes sure every student is working on the same machine. By working on the same machine, the ideas behind using computers can be taught to each student in a way integrated into the curriculum rather than in a remedial way.

    The question, of course, is in what ways should education be preparing students for what comes after 12th grade… and what do computers have to do with that? I expect something over in How is it Good? after reviewing the links from this post…

  2. forgr said, on May 9, 2008 at 9:08 am

    True, these may be anecdotes, but they are anecdotes coming from the treasurer for the Grand Rapids Board of Education and a member of the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority board.

    I have a feeling that in situations like these, cold, hard facts are the only things that talk.

  3. Anonymous said, on September 1, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    . Now you can comment….


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