Are computers for every student a wise investment?


A low student-to-computer ratio is a factor in boosting graduation rates, researchers say.


Default Lines column, August 2010 eSchool NewsDaily technology use in core subject-area classes, frequent technology use in intervention courses, and a low student-to-computer ratio can play a critical role in reducing dropout rates, new research suggests—and the study’s authors argue that a federal investment in mobile computers for every child would pay huge dividends in terms of national productivity.

“Technology is an investment, not an expense,” says Project RED (Reinventing Education), the group behind the research.

The project’s researchers surveyed nearly a thousand schools with diverse student populations and varying levels of ed-tech integration. The researchers found that 45 percent of all schools said their dropout rates are going down—but for schools that have implemented one-to-one computing programs, that figure is 58 percent. And for schools that are implementing 1-to-1 programs effectively, employing strategies such as regular formative assessment and frequent teacher collaboration, that figure jumps to 81 percent.

Based on these findings, Project RED says policy makers should consider the economic impact a federal investment in 1-to-1 computing and education technology could have on the nation’s future.

“The huge economic cost of dropouts is well known,” the group says. “The difference in lifetime tax revenues between a dropout and a college graduate is approximately $200,000. … Schools with a 1-to-1 student-to-computer ratio are cutting the dropout rate and reaping this broader benefit.”

There were 3.7 million seventh graders in U.S. public schools in fall 2007, according to the Education Department’s most recent Digest of Education Statistics. If the federal government spent $400 to supply each seventh grader with a mobile computing device, and then did this for every subsequent class of seventh graders, the cost would be about $1.5 billion per year.

The high school graduation rate of U.S. students has ranged from 71 percent to 74 percent for the last decade. A rate of 74 percent means 962,000 of the seventh graders from 2007 likely will not graduate. If just one-tenth of these potential dropouts were actually to finish school and go on to college, that would result in 96,200 more college graduates—and about $19 billion more in tax revenues over the next 40 years. Not a bad rate of return for an initial $1.5 billion investment.

Of course, this hypothetical scenario relies on a few assumptions, the first being that the lower dropout rates in schools with 1-to-1 computing programs are a result of these programs and not some other factor.

When we first reported on Project RED’s findings online, a few readers wondered whether the demographics themselves of 1-to-1 schools might account for the difference.

“Seems to me that a school in a community with better educated parents or higher incomes would be able to better afford the 1-to-1 [student-to-] computer ratio,” wrote one reader in the comments section of the story. “Those two factors alone could account for much of the improvements that the schools are experiencing.”

But Jeanne Hayes, president of the Hayes Connection and a co-author of the study, said the assumption that 1-to-1 schools are more affluent—and therefore have more resources to bear that might affect their dropout rates—is unfounded.

According to the characteristics of survey respondents, schools with 1-to-1 ratios “appear to be quite different than the stereotype: They are more urban, more western, less likely to be very low-enrollment, … and no more poor or affluent than other schools,” Hayes said. “So the notion that these schools are more affluent than the average school is not the case.”

Another huge assumption is that schools would implement 1-to-1 programs effectively if the federal government invested in the hardware. As Project RED discovered, this is easier said than done: Even among schools that were strongly committed to the success of a 1-to-1 program, “very few” had adopted many of the implementation factors that researchers identified as important, “despite large investments in infrastructure and hardware.”


Researcher finds Safari reveals personal information reports that a feature in Apple’s Safari browser designed to make it easier to fill out forms could by abused by hackers to harvest personal information, according to a security researcher. Safari’s AutoFill feature is enabled by default and will fill in information such as first and last name, work place, city, state, and eMail address when it recognizes a form, wrote Jeremiah Grossman, CTO for WhiteHat Security, on his blog. The information comes from Safari’s local operating system address book. The feature dumps the data into the form even if a person has entered no data on a particular web site, which opens up an opportunity for a hacker…

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L.A. Unified superintendent says he’ll depart next spring

Amid persistent budget woes and increasing political pressure, Los Angeles schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines confirmed on July 22, his 78th birthday, that he plans to step down next spring as head of the nation’s second-largest school system, the Los Angeles Times reports. The news was not unexpected: Cortines had said he expected to serve two to three years when he took the job in December 2008, but this week he became somewhat more specific. Cortines, whose high energy and endurance frequently outlasts that of his staff, had talked recently of being tired and said the political intrigues and public battles sometimes get to him: “Yes, I get frustrated. I am human.”

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Dell to pay $100 million settlement

Dell, several former executives, and its founder, Michael S. Dell, agreed on July 22 to pay more than $100 million in penalties to settle charges of disclosure accounting fraud filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, reports the New York Times. The S.E.C. had accused Dell of misleading investors by using money the company received from the chip maker Intel to pad its quarterly earnings statements. Company executives, according to the S.E.C., relied on the payments from Intel to meet or surpass Wall Street’s expectations. Intel paid Dell in the form of rebates as part of an agreement to ensure that Dell would not use computer chips made by Advanced Micro Devices in its personal computers and computer servers, according to the civil charges. Those rebates are the subject of federal and state antitrust inquiries of Intel…

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Q&A: Rumors, cyberbullying, and anonymity

Last week in this space, I shared excerpts from an interview with David Mikkelson, half of the husband-and-wife team behind, the online clearinghouse for internet rumors and urban legends, reports David Pogue of the New York Times. It was part of a “CBS News Sunday Morning” segment about online rumors that won’t ultimately air. So I thought this week, I’d share with you a piece of another interview for that segment. This time, the subject is John Palfrey, Harvard Law School professor, co-director of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and author of “Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives.”

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Flipboard’s iPad web-zine flops under weight of its own hype

A nifty new iPad application called Flipboard has gone from fascination to mockery at startup speed, reports the Washington Post. This free program, which lets you read web stories and content shared on Twitter and Facebook in a magazine-style layout, earned a first round of assessments on July 21 that were remarkably positive–even for something featuring the winning buzzword-bingo combination of “iPad,” “social media” and “eReader.” The Wall Street Journal‘s Katherine Boehret, for example, wrote that after two months of using early versions of Flipboard on Apple’s tablet computer, she found it a “a beautiful, visual way” to keep up with the web. On Twitter, Flipboard had no bigger fan than veteran tech evangelist Robert Scoble, who posted at least 28 tweets early on July 21 about the app…

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Feds to create an Online Learning Registry

Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the creation of an Online Learning Registry.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the creation of an Online Learning Registry at a summit on rural schools and technology.

In a move to help rural schools keep pace with more developed districts, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) said it will create an Online Learning Registry that will provide access to historical, artistic, and scientific primary-source materials.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan made the announcement July 21 at the National Rural Education Technology Summit held at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI).

“Knowledge knows no boundaries, and we cannot allow distance to stand between students, education, and opportunity,” Duncan said. “We have the hardware, the latest software, and huge investments are being made in the build-out of the National Broadband Plan to connect us as never before.”

The registry is one of the recommendations the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made in its National Broadband Plan to give more students and teachers access to high-quality digital content that the federal government owns.

“No technological innovation in our lifetime has greater potential to transform education than high-speed internet,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

“The National Broadband Plan recommended that the federal government increase the pool of high-quality digital resources that educators can easily find, access, and combine with other content to help their students learn. I am very pleased to see this recommendation being adopted.”

Many of the resources that will appear in the Online Learning Registry have associated educational materials that have been created by education professionals, and some of those educational resources are available online. However, currently it is difficult to find these many resources, because they are available across numerous agencies.

During his remarks to the more than 150 rural education stakeholders and technology experts, Duncan described digital artifacts from the first moon landing as an example of why the registry is needed. He said the artifacts, which include things such as weather records and recordings of conversations, are currently spread across three agencies.

“Right now, frankly, they’re not organized in a way that makes them easy to access. This registry will make it easy for teachers and students to find the variety of resources available,” he said.

And the collections, especially those at the Smithsonian Institution, belong to all Americans—including those who live in rural areas, said Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough.

“We have ambitious plans to use new technologies to reach new audiences. … We have much to offer students and teachers in art, science, history, education, and culture. We want to give learners of all ages access to America’s treasures and our creative experts who bring them to life,” he said.

A healthy American economy depends on a prosperous rural America, said Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“Broadband investment boosts innovative capacity, drives business competition, and expands both educational resources and health-care services in small communities throughout the country,” she said, “USDA, working with other agencies, recognizes that access to high-speed internet is fundamental for rural communities that seek to overcome the challenges of time and distance and provide sustained economic development and job creation.”


Barnes & Noble launches eBook software for students

One-third of students are comfortable with eBooks, according to a recent study.

One-third of students are comfortable with eBooks, according to a recent study.

Barnes & Noble has joined the growing list of companies and organizations giving college students electronic alternatives to their pricey textbooks with the book retailer’s free NOOKstudy software that could save students 40 percent at the bookstore.

The NOOKstudy software will be usable on PCs, Macs, the Apple iPad, and, of course, the Nook when the program is released in August. More than 500,000 free eBooks will be available through the software, according to the Barnes & Noble web site, including some texts that might be required for college students.

Barnes & Noble will partner with learning management giant Blackboard in its NOOKstudy launch, allowing students who use Blackboard’s online learning platform to buy and read texts available in the NOOKstudy library, which will be stocked with more than 1 million eBooks in all.

Students will be able to highlight passages, take notes, and search for those notes in NOOKstudy eBooks, according to the Barnes & Noble announcement.

Campus officials said NOOKstudy marks another way students can trim their ever-growing textbook bills with downloadable tomes accessible on a range of devices. College students spend $800 to $1,100 a year on textbooks, according to government and industry reports. The cost of books has tripled between 1986 and 2004, rising more than 5 percent every year…

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GOP senators move to block FCC on net neutrality

Seven Republican senators have announced a plan to curb the Obama administration’s push to impose net-neutrality regulations on the internet, CNET reports. On July 21, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and six other GOP senators introduced legislation that would dramatically limit the Federal Communications Commission’s ability to regulate broadband providers. “The FCC’s rush to takeover the internet is just the latest example of the need for fundamental reform to protect consumers,” DeMint said in a statement. Without this legislation, DeMint said, the FCC will “impose unnecessary, antiquated regulations on the internet.” The new bill—called the Freedom for Consumer Choice Act, or FCC Act—doesn’t eliminate the FCC’s power over broadband providers. But that power would be narrowed in scope and would come to resemble the antitrust enforcement power of the Department of Justice. Supporters of net neutrality—which include many education groups—say new internet regulations are necessary to prevent broadband providers from arbitrarily restricting content or prioritizing one type of traffic over another…

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The web means the end of forgetting

The digital age is facing its first existential crisis, reports the New York Times: the impossibility of erasing your posted past and moving on. Four years ago, Stacy Snyder, then a 25-year-old teacher in training at Conestoga Valley High School in Lancaster, Pa., posted a photo on her MySpace page that showed her at a party wearing a pirate hat and drinking from a plastic cup, with the caption “Drunken Pirate.” After discovering the page, her supervisor at the high school told her the photo was “unprofessional,” and the dean of Millersville University School of Education, where Snyder was enrolled, said she was promoting drinking in virtual view of her underage students. As a result, days before Snyder’s scheduled graduation, the university denied her a teaching degree. Snyder sued, arguing that the university had violated her First Amendment rights by penalizing her for her (perfectly legal) after-hours behavior. But in 2008, a federal district judge rejected the claim, saying that because Snyder was a public employee whose photo didn’t relate to matters of public concern, her “Drunken Pirate” post was not protected speech. When historians of the future look back on the perils of the early digital age, Stacy Snyder might well be an icon. The problem she faced is only one example of a challenge that is confronting millions of people around the globe: how best to live our lives in a world where the internet records everything and forgets nothing—where every online photo, status update, Twitter post, and blog entry by and about us can be stored forever…

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