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Laptop lust: Another school district gets it

December 26. 2013 9:19PM

Bedford is the latest school district to consider providing laptop computers to every high school student. When will this fad finally end?

Terry Bullard, director of technology at Bedford High School, says Bedford students must become “digital learners.” To achieve this, Bullard has proposed that the school district require every high school student to own and use for class a Google Chromebook. If the school board is foolish enough to do this, it will not end well.

“Today’s students are digital natives,” Bullard told the board. “They know nothing else. They’re born into the technological world. They live it, they depend on it, and it’s part of their world.”

First, that is an exaggeration. Students absolutely know other things. They still use textbooks, for crying out loud.

Second, this policy would not follow the students’ knowing nothing but the digital world, it would cause it. Switching students from books to computers would end their relationship with books. It also would present unpredictable problems.

The Chromebook is an Internet-based computer. It is for nothing else. With this policy the district would be compelling students to spend more time online — on their own devices, which the district would not be able to control. How in the world is that a good idea?

Earlier this year the Los Angeles school system undertook a $1 billion program to provide every student with an iPad, each one installed with software to block access to social media and other non-educational sites. Within hours students had hacked the iPads to disable the protective software. Whatever technology Bedford puts into the hands of its high school students will immediately fall outside of the district’s ability to control.

Then there is the cost. The cheapest Chromebooks are about $250. That would be a significant burden for many families. Those families that already have laptops would have to replace them with less-functional Chromebooks because it is easier on the district if every child uses the same computer. That is outrageous.

This policy would cause more problems than it would solve. Surely Bedford can find a smarter way to improve students’ computer skills, if they need improving.

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