To the editor:
As a relatively recent graduate of the South Whidbey School District, I was rather disgruntled when I read that the district, and more specifically the middle school, had spent “almost $1 million” acquiring iPads for students. I graduated from SWHS in 2008, and Western Washington University in 2012. I currently work as a systems administrator, dealing with technology (including iOS devices) and systems in a multi-million-dollar organization.
Speaking from this position of experience, this use of funds is absolutely frivolous and beyond belief. When I graduated in 2008, teachers were under constant threat of pink slips. Closure of the middle school itself was, and remains, a distinct possibility. Teachers were under supplied and under staffed, courses were cut altogether, class sizes were on the rise, and the district as a whole was millions in debt. It was frequently said among my class that we got out just in time to avoid the collapse.
Move forward to today. Enrollment has been declining for the past several years, and as a result so has funding. Any rudimentary search of the Record’s website will turn up scores of links relating to budget cuts, teacher layoffs and building closures. In a time that could be considered a financial crisis, a fiscally responsible adult would probably adopt a plan that involves curbing frivolous spending. Such common sense would appear to be lost on the South Whidbey School District, if the “almost $1 million” in spending on iPads is as accurate as the Record reports. Let’s look at the numbers, using statistics provided in the District’s 2011-2012 Improvement Plan, as posted on their website:
In 2011 (the most recent data available) the district had 1,660 students enrolled. The total expenditure, per student, per year, is quoted as being $9,985. Now, the Record states the iPad project cost as being “almost $1 million,” so $900,000 seems to be reasonably conservative figure based on this rough estimate. This equates to $542.17 per student, spread over the entire district. This equates to 18.4 percent of the cost per student in the district this year spent on iPads for the middle school. In what reality is this reasonable?
I work in IT. I deal with computers, mobile devices and code all day, every day. Putting iPads in the hands of middle schoolers will not “revolutionize the classroom.” They are a gimmick at best; a consumer electronic device. What influenced me as a student wasn’t some overpriced piece of tech, it was teachers who actually cared about my growth as a learner and about my future. It was having teachers who stayed after school on their own time and dollar to help motivate me and to help me advance, and not sock puppet apps. I am dumbfounded that a trendy piece of tech is being valued above having teachers in the classroom, or even having classrooms at all.
Want to bring technology into the lives of students? Offer courses in areas like programming, something that was nonexistent while I was a student there. Having students do math homework on a tablet is a very expensive solution to an extremely small problem, and one that just reeks of hype and waste. If students were being properly taught math, then it wouldn’t matter what medium they are using to do their homework. The job of the school district is to educate students. Leave the consumer gadgets at home.