Statewide 1-to-1 Computing Initiatives Face a Long, Slow, Difficult Journey

Associate Editor


State efforts to put a digital learning device in the hands of every student are proving to be far more difficult than many ed-tech advocates might have expected.

The latest failed attempt to put a statewide 1-to-1 computing plan in place was a legislative proposal that would have made Utah the first state to provide all of its more than 600,000 public school students with digital devices and other learning technologies. That plan collapsed over the weekend under the weight of the proposed cost, according to media reports.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart proposed the education technology plan to replace textbooks with tablet computers. But the governor balked at the price tag for the project. The original projection of $200 million to $300 million was disputed by an education task force convened by the governor, which estimated the cost would be much higher. 

Maine was the first, and currently is the only state with a statewide 1-to-1 computing initiative, but Maine does not put a digital learning device in the hands of every public school student. All seventh and eighth graders receive devices through the state’s program, but at the high school level, it’s up to the districts or schools to make purchases. More than half of Maine’s high school students are currently equipped with such devices.

The Maine Learning Technology Initiative was started in 2002, showing how long it can take to move statewide computing initiatives closer to the ultimate goal of serving all students. Jeff Mao, the state’s learning technology policy director, said in a phone interview that adoption at the high school level is expected to increase to about 65 percent this year.

Maine continues to take the lead in developing more cost-effective approaches for purchasing, leasing, and replacing its digital learning devices. Last year, Maine education officials led an initiative for multistate technology purchases. Hawaii and Vermont joined in the request for proposal process, which produced a list of five devices from three awardees: two from Apple in Cupertino, Calif., two from Hewlett-Packard in Palo Alto, Calif., and one from CTL in Portland, Ore. The contract prices also cover a suite of services, including professional development, educational software, warranties for fixing broken devices, and providing spare devices. While Maine moved immediately to make the contracts available for its schools and districts to use to make ed-tech purchases, Hawaii and Vermont have yet to finalize their contracts.

But Vermont is getting closer to opening its contracts so that districts can acquire new technologies through the multistate initiative and move toward establishing 1-to-1 computing intiatives, said Peter Drescher, the state’s education technology coordinator, in a phone interview with Education Week. It’s been a slow process, but the rollout of contracts should be ready by the end of March—although Apple isn’t currently on the list for Vermont schools, he said.

“We have some really small schools that are expressing an interest,” Drescher said, which puts Apple in the position of needing to serve schools with as few as 100 students. “We understand that Apple needs to make it work for them, too. We’re still trying to work something out.” 

Meanwhile, in Hawaii a 1-to-1 computing pilot effort giving each child access to a mobile learning device is underway in eight schools across the state, according to Stephanie Shipton, who leads the state’s Access Learning program. The program goes beyond dropping devices off at schools. It began last fall with hands-on professional development for teachers, administrators, and school technology staff. Schools deployed devices to their students after this training. One of the eight schools has prior experience with 1-to1, and is allowing students to use the devices at home, Shipton explained, saying that the other schools plan to do so in future school years. Other parts of the Access Learning pilot include digital curricular materials, ongoing professional development for teachers, increased technology support for schools, and security and safety measures.

The difficulties of putting a statewide 1-to-1 computing plan in place can also be complicated or even derailed by political realities.

For instance, an Idaho proposal to provide a laptop computer for all high school teachers and students over a period of four years was  defeated in a 2012 referendum by more than 66 percent of voters for a number of reasons, from cost to concerns that technology would replace teachers, and worries that students could misuse the technology.

But state education officials did not give up. They now have a 1-to-1 technology pilot program underway in 11 schools across the state, according to Melissa McGrath, the communications director for the state’s department of education. This is the first year of the two-year pilot, and the legislature has authorized another $3 million for a second round of pilots to begin, she said in a phone interview.

This blog post has been updated to include additional information about the Access Learning Pilot Project that in Hawaii.


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