St. Paul Board Approves iPads for Every Student

The plan is for St. Paul, Minnesota, students to each have an iPad by way of a six-year lease with Apple, according to Mila Koumpilova, reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Earlier this week, the city’s  school board voted 5 – 2 in favor of the plan, making this the largest technological device disbursement by a Minnesota school district ever.  The cost is $5.7 million for the participation of 37 schools.

In the future, more than 60 schools will be added to the program at a leasing cost of $8 million. The cost per student is approximately $125. The St. Paul deployment of tech gear stands out because of its aggressive timeline and the inclusion of prekindergarten students in the distribution.

St. Paul education officials follow districts which have reported promising academic gains based on the use of  education technology and those which have started rollouts which were a bit too ambitious.  District leaders, however, believe that time is of the essence in this case since they predict that the devices will improve students learning capabilities.

“Our students are millennials who have tremendous digital fluency, and we must tap into that,” said Kate Wilcox-Harris, the assistant superintendent for personalized learning.

At the same meeting, the board approved a $694.4 million budget for the 2014-2015 school year, a slight increase from last year.

St. Paul citizens approved a $9 million local levy for a  district program called Personalized Learning Through Technology, the first stage of which would include a custom-designed online system to be used by students, parents, and teachers, much like Facebook.  The project stumbled and was replaced by the” device for each student” plan which will include 28,000 new iPad Mini or Air tablets to students and 1,400 Apple laptops to teachers.

There are some unanswered questions, such as: What other resources will be needed other than the referendum dollars? Which schools will get the devices first? How exactly will the districts use the devices and how will the districts measure progress? Will there be extensive training and planning? When will iPads arrive at each school; What will be done with the devices that schools already own?

Anthony Lonetree, writing for the Star Tribune, shares that a mother of a child with autism is grateful for the accessibility to an iPad.  She says that her son could not communicate emotion until he had a device to assist him.  She added that the iPad opened up a whole new world for her child.

Those who are concerned that the plan was put on a fast-track trajectory and is not what was originally discussed are afraid it may be a costly experiment with a “no turning back” component.

But officials said the St. Paul district already did some of the legwork this past school year. Matt Mohs, the district’s chief academic officer, said the timeline is “ambitious but doable” — and subject to changes if needed.

Koumpilova wrote  that the district believes the addition of the devices will “transform instruction”.  Some of these desired transformations include: steering students to personalized  apps; providing materials and assignments geared to students’ skill levels and learning styles; offering more choices and more hands-on learning.

The iPads will be replaced every three to four years and will be insured by Apple.  The corporation, says the district, will also provide training, coaching, and technical support.  The district has said that schools with wider achievement gaps will receive iPads first, along with schools who have staff who are enthusiastic about adding this technology.

There will be guides for parents concerning the use of the iPads at home,along with school events to answer questions about the devices and how they are being used.  Grades 5-12 will be allowed to take their iPads home.