Maryland’s Largest District to Purchase 40,000 Laptops

Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland’s largest school district, will be buying 40,000 laptops and tablets for its students to use both in the classroom and at home.

Montgomery currently enrolls 151,000 students.  The creators of the plan broke the district up into three groups.  The first group will start the school year with the devices, and the second group will receive theirs later this fall.  The last group will join in at the beginning of 2015.

The endeavor will cost about $15 million to roll out.  Participants will include students in third, fifth and sixth grades, as well as high school students taking social studies courses.  Teachers will use Chromebooks in place of textbooks.

A cloud-based learning platform will allow students to easily store and share their work.  According to Sherwin Collette, chief technology officer for the district, this could become a huge advantage in the classroom.

“Many student work products are not started and ended in a class period,” Collette said. “They may not be started or ended in a week. They need to be able to work on it and build on it, and work collaboratively on it.”

If the effort is successful, the district plans on purchasing Android-based tablets for younger students in kindergarten through second grade, writes Donna St. George for The Washington Post.

“They are on technology and using technology every single minute of the day, so to make learning part of technology would be fantastic,” AP Geography teacher Liliana Monk said.

Supporters of the effort say teachers will be able to better monitor student’s activity in and out of the classroom.  Teachers will also be able to make use of the video chat feature when students are at home, allowing for easy access to extra help, reports Kevin Lewis for WJLA.

“This is not about technology,” Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said. “This is about teaching and learning and enhancing that experience for kids.”

The initiative began as an effort to bring technology into the classroom and inspire digital collaboration and creativity.  Something that Starr says schools will need to continue to budget for in the future.

Opponents wonder where the money is coming from, and how the technology will affect students’ productivity.

“It’s so much money,” one parent said. “I’d like to see a very detailed proposal of why this has to be spent now.”

Some teachers are also wondering about the distractions associated with the technology, and how well students will stay on task.

A similar plan last year by the Los Angeles School District to spend $1 billion on iPads was ended when students began to steal the devices and browse non-school-related websites, writes Lindsay Powers for The Gazette.

The district hopes to own 100,000 devices by 2017.