On May 3, 2017, Richard Best, Director of Capital Projects and Planning, and John Krull, Chief Information Officer, stood in front of the Seattle School Board with a proposal for $1.6M to purchase laptops to be distributed to seven schools. Krull estimated the budget would allow one laptop for every two students.

According to the proposal, All classrooms will receive the appropriate Teacher Work Station (matching the mobile device rollout that the Department of Technology Services (DoTS) along with Curriculum and Instruction (C&I) is currently implementing)… Curriculum for Seattle Public Schools is due for revisions and updates and so far no curriculum proposals have been presented to the school board for review by Seattle Public School staff. Also, the software to be installed, as School Board Director Leslie Harris pointed out, has not been vetted as would happen with any textbook used in a classroom. Harris also noted that the students at Middle College have alleged that the software program Edgenuity that is installed on all of the computers at a school where the majority of students represent minority communities, has racist undertones. Apparently no one took a critical eye to the software before it was installed.

There is also the concern by parents of how much of the curriculum to be installed on the laptop is based on the Common Core Standards with its concomitant testing. With so much emphasis on the Common Core Standards, there is concern that learning has become imbalanced leaving out history, civics and the arts, and the testing too obtrusive.

The proposal goes on to state, DoTS as well as Teaching and Learning have developed a vision of incorporating more mobile devices into the classroom, which not only allows for more interactive teaching and learning, but also allows the district to obtain more devices for deployment across the schools. According to School Board Director Rick Burke, what might be the vision of the Department of Technology Services might not be the vision of education shared by educators, parents and students.

Burke also mentions “scope creep” where every student ends up with a laptop, as in Oakland where John Krull worked previously, costing millions of dollars and the school district is broke again with Oakland’s spending exceeding its revenue by $30 million.

In the proposal, it is stated that having these laptops will Hone technology-based fluency resulting in graduating students that are “Seattle Ready”. Trust me, kids are “Seattle ready” in the district with their smartphones and access to computers at home and in libraries.

It is noted in the proposal that the $1.6 M is a “1 time expenditure” but with “scope creep” as Burke mentioned, the vision of the Department of Technology can become very costly with a laptop filled with un-vetted software and the majority of learning taking place “digitally” with teachers as “coaches” rather than full time participants leading the classrooms in discussion with an exchange of knowledge and ideas.

The school board wants to have a conversation with educators, parents and students on what the vision of education in Seattle should be. What do we want education to look like? Where should technology fit into the big picture of learning?

In terms of cost, there needs to be a balance between paying for technology and ensuring there are adequate teachers, librarians, nurses, counselors, books, teaching materials, staff support, full-time Vice Principals, all of the support that is necessary for a well-functioning school and yet many schools in the district have none of the above. Not everything can be addressed by giving a student a laptop.

To follow is the excerpt of the Seattle School Board meeting when Richard Best and John Krull discuss the proposal with the school board.

As someone who teaches Architecture to students, kids are innovative and creative with just a pencil and a piece of paper. No technology is needed to learn. It can be a tool but not an end unto itself.

What do you think should be the future of technology in Seattle classrooms? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Dora Taylor