Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The digital divide in our schools

Photo Credit: Aron Balogh
Last week I sat in a conference room with parents educators and PTA members from 4 different districts in my state and several schools. We were all there ready to hear a presentation from the State Dept of Ed. concerning how in the next coming year the standardized tests that the kids in my district, heck the whole state take would soon be administered completely online. Yes no more scan-trons (eventually) or essays to be sent to a scorer in another state and returned 6 weeks later. The plan is for students to sit at a computer and take these tests. Depending on where your school is this news made you feel




I was on the interested and borderline excited but looking around the room and the followup questions thru-out the presentation I was more aware that many others were not feeling as I was.

Like I said earlier I was there with people from various schools and various districts. The move to online only is not mandatory for next year, it will be available but the guess is it will take a few years to get everyone in the state on it. Why so long? The same reason why some of the people in the room were scared. There are schools in this state that don't have the capacity to implement this.

Most people think of the digital divide in terms of at home, the haves and have nots with computers and internet access. C1 got her own laptop as a pre 8th grade present so she could do her assignments. I have high-speed internet at home, her laptop is set up so she has bookmarked access to all her teacher's blackboard sites, videos explaining math concepts, links to the library online catalog so she can put a book on hold to pick up later or search the databases. This is also where all her textbooks are. Every signal class she's in has an online textbook. Lighter backpack? Nope she frequently has 4 or more library books in her bag at any given time using that now free space. The thing is her having her own laptop or at least easy home access to a family computer in her school is pretty normal. We fit right in. Her school has SMART boards, and computers in all the classes anywhere from 4 to a full set for the room. When we are out around my neighborhood its not unusual to see several children walking around with jump drives on lanyards around their necks. We even have 2 schools in the district who are in the One-to-one program where every child is given a laptop to check out and take home for the school year. This is my normal. This wasn't everyone else in the rooms normal. One person spoke up asking how to do it when they have computers for maybe 1/3 of the school. Another just got a bunch of machines but they are still being set up so its not known that ratio of computer to student. Some are in very rural districts so even library access is a pretty good drive away and there may not be public transportation to get to it without a car. And that's when I hit me.

The state is moving forward but not everyone can keep up and those children are losing. One school is stressing writing at the same grade level another is past that and teaching PowerPoint. Both are important but one has the tools to move forward. We talked about keyboarding a middle school or high school elective in some districts an elementary class in others. I've always made a point to pay attention to my district and how funds are spread and how the top in the district compares to the bottom but I never thought much of the districts that touch mine or are 2 hours away. How is it that what I see as a school that needs improvement in my district might be the top tier in another. It makes my head hurt thinking about it. We all get a share of the pie, a split of the lottery but what's making some dramatic differences? I don't know what to do about it other then talking with others, making contacts with neighboring districts and sharing ideas. They are trying to keep up with the Joneses. I just wasn't aware the Joneses were me.

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