Detroit buys laptops

Detroit’s hard-hit public schools are buying 35,000 laptop computers for all sixth- through 12th-grade students, reports the Free Press.  The district already bought 5,000 laptops for teachers. The money comes from a $49 million federal grant.

The technology “will truly create 21st century learning environments,” said Robert Bobb, the “emergency financial manager” and de facto superintendent of Detroit Public Schools. “Today we opened their classrooms to the world.”

In addition, 4,789 desktop computers will be distributed to ensure every classroom has a computer. Schools will get 4,291 printer/scanners and 4,550 document cameras that capture images for display on large screens.

Teachers will be able to access Learning Village, an online system that includes state standards, lesson plans and tutoring tools. By fall, staff and parents will be able to use the system to record and monitor student grades, Bobb said.

What happens when a disorganized, dysfunctional school gets a bunch of computers?  Nothing.

Is Spending Money on Technology Worth It? asks Larry Cuban, a Stanford education professor, in Ed Week.

Each reason for spending money has so little evidence to support the investment that it is like buying dot-com stocks that lose money year after year. It is, as Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan once said about the stock market, “an irrational exuberance.”

The rest of the piece is subscribers-only, but you get the idea.

Update: More schools are buying their students $750 iPads, reports the New York Times, which quotes Cuban saying there are better ways to spend the money.

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  1. Michael E. Lopez says:

    “Today we opened their classrooms to the world.”

    And the world got a good laugh?

    I think he meant to say he opened the world to their classrooms.

  2. Richard Nieporent says:

    <“Today we opened their classrooms to the world.”

    Michael, maybe Detroit schools will be taking part in the next Cisco commercial. 🙂

  3. Paul Muench says:

    “What happens when a disorganized, dysfunctional school gets a bunch of computers? Nothing.” They might get a more relaible and flexible way to communicate. That might help with the disorganized part and hence help with the dysfunctional part. Of course if one assumes the problem is really a moral problem and not a practical problem, then not much will result.

  4. Soapbox0916 says:

    This is the very real problem of how the federal grant system works. As a local government peon who has to write grants to request aka beg for all funding, the federal grant system is splintered into far too narrow pots of money. It is very much like a lottery, local systems apply for a ton of grants, but only receive a small fraction of the grants that they apply for, and the grants that are received are nearly random.

    Detroit can’t get the funding where it really needs it, but can qualify for a federal pot of money designated for computers. I feel fairly certain that Detroit did not specifically choose to spend tons of money on laptops over something else, but that Detroit applied for every grant that they could, but the lottery style effect of funding means that this what they could get grant money for, and this is what they got funding for which is laptops.

    I realize that taxpayers don’t want government waste and they read/hear about government waste and therefore demand accountability. Narrow categories are much easier to keep track of and superficially seem more accountable, but the problem is that the money doesn’t go where it is most needed because it is not based on looking at the budget of a school system as a whole and making choices within a context, but on the lottery style of winning funding in extremely narrow uses of funds.

  5. Oh boy, that’ll help ’em learn.

  6. Soapbox, I must say, your post was eloquent and right on target.

    It’s an obscene waste of money, but it’s not Detroit’s fault.

  7. My school got a federal grant of about $50,000 three years ago and every piece of equipment that was bought has now gone to landfill.

  8. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    Reminds me of something Joanne wrote called “Dumb But Pretty”, As usual, the educrats confuse the end with the means. Computers, Elmos, Smartboards, etc. are just another means to the end–learning–but are seen as an end in itself. Our school (through generous public and private foundation grants) got computers in every classroom and a computer lab (which is now dormant) and our test scores actually went down, and much worse, many students still can’t read, write or do math at their respective grade levels. Technology is the panacea du jour until some other panacea comes along. Educrats are continually putting the cart before the horse!

  9. What happens when a disorganized, dysfunctional school gets a bunch of computers?

    The kids and teachers hock them at the pawn shop (one teacher was just caught doing so).

    Soapbox is correct about the narrowly targeted funds.

  10. This is just one more reason the federal government should stay out of education. In the past 40 years, spending has exploded, a new federal bureaucracy has been created and academic results have stagnated.

  11. Richard Aubrey says:

    Sort of like motivational speakers. “What are you doing about this year’s lousy results?”
    “We got a motivational speaker.”
    “Oh. Okay. Good.”
    This is worse than hot having any computers/grant. The public-at-large, which is too smart fo think this is going to solve anything, sees their tax money going to a fat boondoggle and is going to be reluctant to part with any more of it, justifiably not trusting the clowns-in-charge to use it well.
    The idea of targeted grants is not going to mollify them.

  12. tim-10-ber says:

    Momof4 — very well said!! Huge waste in government education and little if anything to show for it. Our state releases its report card six months late this friday…the scores should be horrible but hopefully they finally reflect how weak the standards have been for the past decade at a minimum…

  13. This just proves that the technology fad in schools is exactly that, a fad. When I was in high school, the only students who got to use computers were the ones in computer math and we had to connect at 110/300 baud to the district’s Univac or University’s Cyber to get time to write our programs in either BASIC or Fortran 66/77 (this was in 1979, btw).

    The first affordable electronic calculators with science and math functions were just coming out as well (anyone remember the old TI-55, I owned one in 1980, bought with my money I saved from delivering papers).

    All this technology (cutting edge at the time, obsolete today) didn’t help me read, write, perform math, etc. The computer and calculator are simply tools, and without a good grounding in the basics of reading (with phonics), writing (and understanding the elements of a sentence), and math (add, subtract, multiply, divide, percentages, and fractions), all the technology in the world won’t help the kids in Detroit (or anywhere else in the US for that matter).

    What I take for as elementary or middle school knowledge, many high school graduates (and some college graduates) cannot do at all.

    A sad commentary on what has happened to our public school system over the last quarter century.

  14. Well, I’ll tell you what happened when the Title One High school I worked at bought 1200 MAC laptops and decided to hand them out to the students before the teachers were adequately prepared to teach with them.

    All Hell broke loose within 2 weeks. It became a constant battle with the students to have them close their laptops and pay attention to the lesson. The kids found a way around all our security systems and were downloading porn and music like crazy.

    One girl was suspended for using the webcam to film herself while masturbating and then showing the video to all her friends in history class.

    Laptops were pawned, laptops were broken, laptops were lost, and laptops were “stolen”. Whenever we did try to use them for a lesson we were greeted with “I left mine at home, or my computer isn’t charged.” Even if all the students did have their laptops, the network often had trouble handling 30 students in a single room trying to go online.

    After 6 months all the laptops were taken up and reimaged. The camera was disabled, Itunes was removed along with several other programs. The computers were now neutered and many of the programs that we had been trained to use for lessons were now unavailable to the students.

    The following school year, the school gave up on the one-to-one project. What a WASTE of money.

  15. I wonder how many bags of marijuana each laptop will be worth?

  16. Actually the kids might be able to strap the laptops to their chests as body armor to deflect blades…the laptops would be more effective that way.