Why Hoboken is tossing all its laptops

Mothballed laptops locked inside a storage closet at Hoboken Junior Senior High School.

Five years ago, federal “stimulus” dollars paid for laptops for every student at Hoboken Junior Senior High School. Now the school is throwing away all the laptops, reports WNYC.

Laptops broke. Laptops vanished. Students defeated the security software that was supposed to keep them away from pornography, gaming sites and Facebook. “There is no more determined hacker, so to speak, than a 12-year-old who has a computer,” said Jerry Crocamo, who installed the software.

The computers were slow. They crashed frequently. “Often, there was too little memory left on the small netbooks to run the educational software.”

The $500 laptops lasted only two years and then needed to be replaced. New laptops with more capacity for running educational software would cost $1,000 each, (Superintendent Mark) Toback said. Additionally, licenses for the security software alone were running more than $100,000 and needed to be renewed every two years.

Worst of all, the school had no plan for how to use the new technology to improve teaching. Teachers received little training, concedes Toback, who wasn’t there at the time.  

This has been a problem since the invention of the personal computer.

“Probably in the last few months I’ve had quite a few principals and superintendents call and say, ‘I bought these 500 iPads or 1,000 laptops because the district next to us just bought them,’ and they’re like, now what do we do?” said Allison Powell, who works for the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.

The district plans to pay a recycling company to dispose of the laptops. I’ve got to believe they could find a nonprofit to rehab and donate them.

About Joanne


  1. Yes, this is what happens when you give every student a laptop or an iPad. I don’t know why anyone expects any different. I think they think computers are magic.

  2. The way we do things now can probably be improved. But changes need to be planned carefully and tested on a small scale before rushing into expensive programs and then discovering that expected benefits do not materialize.

  3. I gave each of my students a new notebook with all the bells and whistles. It was constantly updated each day and only cost about seven bucks. The student had to supply a pencil or pen to be able to record data, observations, analysis, notes and assignments. It never crashed and was easily replaced if stolen (which, oddly, never happened).
    It doesn’t need security software nor did I need to install programs to defeat sites like facebook.
    Since students could keep these nifty high tech gadgets, they could install any all materials they wanted.
    Amazing what you can do with analog materials.

  4. Anyone who thinks that supplying kids with laptops/ipads/computers is going to help them learn is an idiot.

    I didn’t have a computer until I bought one with my own money back in 1979, and the school had some dumb lear-seigler ADM 3a and 5 terminals, and a Billings Microcomputer which ran CP/M.

    Aside from computer math, that was the only thing they got used for. To write reports, we used a typewriter.


  5. First, supplying all the kids with laptops when you have no plan for how they would be used is just about as dumb as it gets. Unless you have a whole plan built around the technology, it’s just going to get in the way. The phrase “a whole plan” is much bigger than most people think, too. It includes warranties and service plans, SLAs with network providers, online content for both instruction and drill, online testing and grade reporting and so on. Hundreds of things. It could be done, but I doubt any normal school has the IT chops to pull it off.

    So, laptops or tablets for all kids is almost always a dumb idea.

    Second, if you’re not going to listen to the first point, above, at least have the sense to buy durable equipment (NOT $500 bargain laptops) with warranty support and SLAs and all of the other stuff to guarantee that you won’t be unable to teach because of some dumb problem. If possible, you would also want to have a “fallback” plan for cases where the internet or network is unavailable. I, being a suspenders AND belt man, would also have a power outage fallback plan, just in case a big storm takes power out for a couple of days (only rely on a generator if you have the wherewithal to test it monthly and a source of fuel that is a good bet during a crisis).

    You would also want to implement best practices as to data backup and disaster recovery.

    None of these problems are all that difficult, many companies have just as much riding on their technology as a school. The key is to have good IT folks who plan, plan, plan and drill, drill, drill.

    The company I work for sells software services to other companies and the first thing many companies ask when they are exploring purchasing our stuff is for answers to all of the above. We get asked often enough that we have a standard document that addresses all of it that we just whip out when asked.

  6. Roger Sweeny says:

    One reason that schools don’t have “whole plans” is that “whole plans” are foreign to the culture of most public schools.

    Schools are remarkably non-hierarchical. Teachers are hired and expected to hit the ground running. They will not have to do much of any reporting to “middle managers” and rarely will anyone from “management” show his or her face in the classroom. Most schools don’t have many people in management at all. Teachers are expected to do things on their own. Lots of teachers like it that way because they think they know better than any principal, vice-principal, assistant superintendent, or whatever. (And they are usually right.)

    So when the system decides to get “laptops for everyone,” there are no people or systems in place to figure out beforehand how to use them. And there are no systems or people in place to tell teachers what to do and to keep track of whether it is being done. Instead, everyone gets the machines, the teachers get a few days of “training,” and “management” hopes it works out.

  7. SC Math Teacher says:

    Slightly off-topic:

    I would love for someone to do some investigating into the “Mooresville Miracle”, wherein the Mooresville, NC schools adopted a 1:1 laptop and saw test scores skyrocket. I suspect much of the gain has to do with rapidly changing demographics in the greater Charlotte, NC area (large influx of middle- to upper-middle class families) rather than the laptops, but thus far everyone is taking at face value that the laptops were the cause. I cannot find any articles, studies, etc., that examine other potential causal factors.