Last year Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools galvanized local support in a campaign to ask for additional funding to avert teacher layoffs. They gained an additional $26 million. This year CMS is spending $10 million on iPads for the classroom.
CMS notified employees this week that the district is taking applications from teams of teachers with proposals for using the tablets to "meet the needs of the 21st century digital learner." Groups that are chosen will get one iPad per teacher and up to 10 per classroom for student use, along with accessories, training and tech support.
The $10 million in county money to be spent on the teacher technology grants is in addition to $1.2m already spent on iPads for school administrators. This comes as something of a shock to people doing napkin math and working out that the money could instead have been spent on over 300 full time teachers to reduce class sizes and improve basic fundamental education.
CMS defends the expenditure as being a one-off investment in technology:
Eric Davis, who chaired the school board last year, said CMS leaders "did precisely what we said we were going to do." They prepared based on the best available forecasts, he said, then adjusted based on what CMS actually got from county, state and federal governments.
"We were making investments in the district last year, and technology is a clear area where we need to make investments," Davis said.
The benefits of iPad use in the classroom were studied this semester at Weber State University. Conclusions to the study are as yet unavailable, but early reports indicate mixed results:
The students in the courses that provided the iPads responded positively to using the tablets. However, many students had trouble adjusting to the technology, and others found it was not as convenient as they had hoped. The tablets have proven to be helpful in some areas with drawbacks in others.