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North Carolina School District Has Success With MacBook Air Initiative

The Mooresville, North Carolina district is one of a handful in the country to issue laptops, the MacBook Air in this case, to each student. Mooresville is attempting to turn the public school education on its head, using technology to change the culture of instruction. The district was profiled in the New York Times on Monday.

The Times says the district has "quietly emerged as the de facto national model of the digital school."
[Superintendent of schools Mark] Edwards spoke on a White House panel in September, and federal Department of Education officials often cite Mooresville as a symbolic success. Overwhelmed by requests to view the programs in action, the district now herds visitors into groups of 60 for monthly demonstrations; the waiting list stretches to April. What they are looking for is an explanation for the steady gains Mooresville has made since issuing laptops three years ago to the 4,400 4th through 12th graders in five schools (three K-3 schools are not part of the program).

The district’s graduation rate was 91 percent in 2011, up from 80 percent in 2008. On state tests in reading, math and science, an average of 88 percent of students across grades and subjects met proficiency standards, compared with 73 percent three years ago. Attendance is up, dropouts are down. Mooresville ranks 100th out of 115 districts in North Carolina in terms of dollars spent per student — $7,415.89 a year — but it is now third in test scores and second in graduation rates.

Each MacBook Air notebooks is leased from Apple for $215 per year, including warranty. The total cost for the computers is around $1 million per year, plus an additional $100K for software. Families pay a $50 fee

The Mooresville Graded School District paid for the initiative by eliminating 65 jobs, including 37 teaching positions, and accepting larger class sizes. At the same time, schools could get rid of computer labs and antiquated teaching materials like hanging wall maps.

Steve Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson wrote about Jobs' feelings towards American public education. Jobs felt the system was "hopelessly antiquated and crippled by union work rules." Particularly galling to Jobs was that classrooms were led by teachers standing at a blackboard, using textbooks. He felt that "all books, learning materials, and assessments should be digital and interactive." Feedback should be tailored to each student and provided in real time.

Instead of simply throwing technology dollars at the problem, hoping it can fix itself, Mooresville is using technology as a tool to help students learn.
Mooresville frequently tests students in various subjects to inform teachers where each needs help. Every quarter, department heads and principals present summary data to Mr. Edwards, who uses it to assess where teachers need improvement. Special emphasis goes to identifying students who are only a few correct answers away from passing state proficiency standards. They are then told how close they are and, Mr. Edwards said, “You can, you can, you can.”
Apple made its biggest stride yet into the digital classroom at an education-focused event last month. At that event, Apple launched a new digital textbook initiative for the iPad, plus easy-to-use authoring tools to help educators collaborate and share knowledge across school districts and disciplines.

Jobs' vision for the digital school may be turning to reality in Mooresville, North Carolina.

(Image via Jeremy M. Lange/New York Times)

Top Rated Comments

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34 months ago

The Mooresville Graded School District paid for the initiative by eliminating 65 jobs, including 37 teaching positions, and accepting larger class sizes.


This, I have a significant problem with. Not a worthwhile tradeoff, in my opinion.

jW
Rating: 20 Votes
34 months ago

Wonderful, let's make our education system worse. But hey you get a temporarily leased laptop!!! WOOHOO!!!


"- The district's graduation rate was 91 percent in 2011, up from 80 percent in 2008.
- On state tests in reading, math and science, an average of 88 percent of students across grades and subjects met proficiency standards, compared with 73 percent three years ago.
- Attendance is up, dropouts are down.
- Mooresville ranks 100th out of 115 districts in North Carolina in terms of dollars spent per student -- $7,415.89 a year -- but it is now third in test scores and second in graduation rates."


Yes, such a terrible shame the education system was made so much worse by these laptops.

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Rating: 17 Votes
34 months ago
I am a teacher in MGSD. I have been here since 2003 and I am "digital native" but I have taught here both before and after the laptops.

I wanted to address a few things.

First, North Carolina does not have teacher unions. There are teacher unions, however we are a right to work state and so they have little power and/or influence. Fewer than half of our teachers I would guess are members of the NCAE (I am not).

Yes, we have had layoffs. No, they were not directly correlated to the purchase of the laptops. Like every school district in the country, the recession led to a drop in sales tax, therefore our state funding decreased, there our budgets were cut by huge amounts. We have cut back on office supplies, textbooks by not purchasing them, etc. Salaries are the largest part of our budget and I would encourage everyone to view our annual report which details our budget. Many of the positions lost were retirements or people leaving the district of their own volition and whose positions were simply eliminated as opposed to being filled. In addition to our own technology budget, we have a substantial grant from a large national employer who has headquarters in our town.

Yes class sizes have grown. However our administrators have done an outstanding job at raising the class sizes of electives and honor level classes where students are better able to absorb the changes. Our lowest performing students have the smallest class sizes.

Our test scores are based on the accountability tests written and administered by the state of North Carolina. We use our own internal data as formative assessments at regular intervals to prepare for those state tests. The data reflected in the article comes solely from the state and is easily accessible on ncpublicschools.org (click on School Report Cards). It is not a test we made up to make ourselves look good.

In terms of the interaction - one thing not mentioned in the article is that at the same time we did the 1:1 conversion we also adopted a program called Capturing Kids Hearts. It involves making a personal connection with a student because until you capture their heart, you can't capture their mind. We all develop social contracts with our students, we greet them at the door every day, we share Good News on a regular basis, and truly get to know our students and let them know we care about them. Many of our students have found this to be a safe, comforting environment because the interaction is so much greater. Technology has freed up some of our back-end time so we can take more time to get to know kids, work with them more closely, target their weak areas sooner and get them the help they need. I feel I know my students better and interact with them FAR more than I did previously. My kids email me all the time with questions, when they are at home working on homework, they know they can email or instant message me on Angel, and they get the help sooner and faster.

Additionally, the things I ask my students to do in class allow me to truly see their creativity shine, and demonstrate their true gifts, and their actual learning, so I learn to see the student behind the textbook so to speak. Again, the things they can do with the technology allow me to see a richer, more complex person that answers on a worksheet. It allows me to have a personal insight into my students' lives. I absolutely can confirm that I have touched more lives as a result of this technology being available. Not just the bright, smart kids that everyone loves to work with - also those who feel they are worthless, have no parent support, have no one to give them kind or supporting words, or show no interest in their school lives or work.

In terms of what we teach - it varies from subject to subject however in my department we are focused on proficiency-based learning where students demonstrate through their blogs, digital portfolios and performance assessments what they have learned. They all perform at different levels, and they have different assignments based on their abilities. We use a lot of project-based learning where students are involved in collaborative problem solving of real-world problems. We are nurturing higher level thinking skills and empowering kids to reflect, push themselves, and think creatively. I would encourage to watch some video of our teachers in action as we were recently profiled at Digital Learning Day. You can find those videos here: http://www.digitallearningday.org/DLD2012
We are profiled in the leadership and instructional strategies section.

I am honored and blessed to work in such a district where we have made a priority of reaching every child, every day and I appreciate the opportunity to share my insights with all of you.

Let me add to that I left a highly lucrative career to take a 50%+ pay cut to become a teacher. (I am still not yet to the salary I was making in 2002 when I became a teacher). There are no bonuses, no merit raises, no title upgrades or promotions. But my students who tell me I have made a difference in their lives (and one class made a surprise website featuring video tutorials of the impact I had made on them - purely unsolicited and unexpected) - that is why I do what I do.
Rating: 17 Votes
34 months ago
Is it just me or does it look like that kid is wearing Shaq's shoes?
Rating: 14 Votes
34 months ago


At the same time, schools could get rid of computer labs and antiquated teaching materials like hanging wall maps.


Now America can have a real reason for not knowing there is somewhere called "the rest of the world" ;)
Rating: 13 Votes
34 months ago
I went to a technology highly several years ago. We were one of the first with the Vice President coming to see what were were doing. We received millions in funding form the Gates Foundation and other non-profits because this was going to be the "future of education". Guess what. It did well for a few years as the school attracted top talent who were interested in having a computer at every desk. Eventually the allure wore off as every kid had as much tech at home as the school provided. Test scores dropped and the school fell apart. I learned some great stuff about technology during my time there, and I had some fantastic opportunities in technology that in part helped to make me a very high income earner today. Having said that the school was a failure in my opinion. Teachers relied on technology to interest students and not the curriculum. I graduated with a fantastic technology education, but I lacked a basic high school education in math and sciences that left me struggling in college. This is not the future of education. The future of education is parents who do their jobs and trust their teachers to do theirs. It's parents who take the technology away from their children until they do basic learning. iPads are not going to save this country's education system. Only basic parenting can.
Rating: 12 Votes
34 months ago

Haha! Those poor kids are getting computers instead of teachers. This is really really sad.


This, I have a significant problem with. Not a worthwhile tradeoff, in my opinion.


Wonderful, let's make our education system worse. But hey you get a temporarily leased laptop!!! WOOHOO!!!



This is a major part of the problem with education. Too many people are willing to completely ignore the significantly better results because they would rather stick with the status quo.

In case you haven't noticed the status quo isn't cutting it.
Rating: 11 Votes
34 months ago
Yes the computers made a huge difference but it's how they incorporated them. They changed the entire idea of a classroom as well.

Many classrooms have moved from lecture to lattice, where students collaborate in small groups with the teacher swooping in for consultation. Rather than tell her 11th-grade English students the definition of transcendentalism one recent day, Katheryn Higgins had them crowd-source their own — quite Thoreauly, it turned out — using Google Docs. Back in September, Ms. Higgins had the more outgoing students make presentations on the Declaration of Independence, while shy ones discussed it in an online chat room, which she monitored.


also note what one of the students said about how it changed their social behavior

“I’m not a very social person, but I have no problem typing on a keyboard,” said one of those shy ones, Chase Wilson. “It connected me with other students — opened me up and helped me with talking in public.”


Say what you want but this district understands that it's not just the computers but it's how you integrate the computers into a digital classroom and yet do it with less teachers.
Rating: 10 Votes
34 months ago

You would really fight tooth and nail against an 11% increase in graduation rates, a 15% increase in average test scores and better attendance.

Wow...



Those increases do indeed seem impressive, but before commenting on them I would like to know for certain that the increases are in fact real and not manufactured. Here in the UK there is an almost annual news story to the effect of "highest level of graduation in history" or something along those lines - on the surface it would certainly seem that kids are getting smarter, but the truth is that the standards are simply being dropped year-on-year.

The sad reality is that kids these days (at least in the UK) are probably *less* educated than those from 5 or 10 years ago, and this pattern continues back for a good number of decades. It's the same all the way up into higher education. Where once a degree was not only impressive, but very hard to achieve, they are now incredibly commonplace to the point of being expected. Even a Master's degree barely raises an eyebrow these days. Is this because we've raised a whole generation of geniuses? Take a look at the world and decide for yourself, but I would say "no".

It's a shame, but it's no doubt true that academic standards and requirements for success in general have been undergoing a decline in many areas over the years, so I would like to be certain that the quoted statistics being referenced here are actual "true" improvements in grades as opposed to a simple shifting of the goalposts.
Rating: 10 Votes
34 months ago
Just out of curiosity, how many kids look back fondly on the technology that inspired them to push themselves to excel, to do more than society expected of them, to move the human race forward?

I'd question how many of those laid-off teachers would have inspired the next generation. Instead they are (hopefully) working at other schools or districts that *aren't* relying entirely on technology to fix their problems.

I would have been much more impressed if they had taken a more balanced approach to create and encourage excellent teachers AND provide them with cutting edge technology.

But that's just me. I chose my path not because of the computer I had in school, but because of the excellent teacher who showed me what it could do. It was an Apple computer by the way.

j
Rating: 9 Votes

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