Now what was it Locke said? Life, liberty, and laptops?
Fullerton, California has jumped on the bandwagon to encourage computer literacy in students. Officials in the district want students as young as first grade to have an Apple G4 iBook. But here’s where the fun begins: they expect parents to pay for the computers.
Heather Sutherland was excited to learn her public school system was using laptop computers to teach elementary students such as her daughter. Until, that is, she found out parents were expected to pay the nearly $1,500 cost.
“I said, ‘What? You must be joking,' ” Sutherland says. “I think it's unfair that the (school district) is requiring us to ‘pay to learn.' ”
The public school system in this quiet city 27 miles southeast of Los Angeles is pushing the frontiers of computer technology in the classroom with a program that puts a laptop computer into the backpacks of children as early as first grade. It is pushing the boundaries of financing, too, by asking parents to pay $500 a year for three years so each of more than 2,000 elementary and middle school children can have their own Apple iBook G4 laptop….
The Fullerton program, at four of 20 district schools, has created a storm of controversy for the school system and its superintendent, Cameron McCune. It also has raised broader questions about how far public schools here and elsewhere can go in using costly technology in the face of tight school budgets and limited funding.
Some parents worry that whatever its educational benefits, the program has created an expensive burden for struggling families and has forged new divisions in the public schools.
Sutherland, who kept her 11-year-old daughter out of the program, is concerned that it creates “a horrible form of financial segregation.”
“It's mind-boggling that they would even suggest such a thing,” Sutherland says.
Some parents say the financial expectations and price tag violate California's constitutional guarantee of a free public education — a principle also in other state constitutions. The parents are threatening a lawsuit and have enlisted the help of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“The California constitution is very, very clear: My children attend a free public school,” Sandra Dingess says.
Dingess moved three of her four children to another school within the district to avoid the big computer bill and what she says was the embarrassment her children faced from being unable to pay. Her fourth child, an eighth-grader, remained in the program for a final year.
Now some people might say that there is no difference between having a bond issue to help the district to provide computers and having the parents buy the computers outright. I would disagree. If a family has three children in this program, they are being asked to pay $1500 a year in addition to their taxes and the cost of all the other incidentals involved in their children’s education. Suspicious, cynical me also wonders if this isn’t going to lead to economic segregation in these schools, with a corresponding rise in test scores when the less affluent parents transfer their children out, as Ms. Dingess did.
Further, although I love Apple products myself, I’m not so sure a school district should force consumers to purchase a certain brand of computer (in the interest of full disclosure, let me state that I am also an Apple shareholder. As such, I would be furious if I were forced to purchase a relic of the Microsoft Empire and thereby pollute into my pristine, Mac-filled home, heh heh.)
I also doubt the efficacy of placing an iBook in the hands of a first grader. How long do you think it would take a six-year-old to break an iBook? I’m not willing to let my kids play with mine to find out, but I bet it would be one week, at the outside, especially if it was in my kids’ backpacks (shudder!) which get slung around more that a calf in a rodeo roping contest—I actually watched my adventurous middle child slide down a snow-covered hill on hers once. True, maybe the kids would take better care of the computers if they were theirs. I have a long-standing policy of never giving pencils to students who don’t have one, from the bitter experience of learning that when you give something away, it becomes worthless in the eyes of the recipient. But since the kids themselves would not be paying for the computers, I still predict that the machines would be treated the way most of their other toys are.
I wonder if anyone has connected California’s wacky experiments in “taxpayer rights,” like the infamous Proposition 13, to the decision of the school district to pass the cost for a required piece of equipment directly to the parents? Once again, you CAN’T get something for nothing, people! You can’t be guaranteed a free public education in the California constitution, and have cutting edge technology in the schools, and have low taxes.