Laptops: Pros and Cons
Q. What are the advantages and disadvantages of giving
laptop computers to all students?
Pro: Laptops can lead to better student motivation to learn, teachers say,
including more independent research, and better student discussion in
classrooms. The No. 1 most important "plus" - students like them!
Con: However, many districts have failed to clearly state measurable goals
for the use of laptops to show a distinct improvement in specific student
achievement outcomes. They wind up as a toy -- not really a productive learning
tool. If all a district can show is "soft" data on how much students (and
teachers) like having laptops, rather than "hard" data that shows that fewer
students need remediation, more students graduate, standardized test scores are
going up, and more graduates do better in college, the district is probably
covering up a serious problem with cost-effectiveness.
Pro: It can bridge the "digital divide,"
the disturbing phenomenon in which students from middle-class and well-off
families can afford home computers, but students from households that struggle
Con: It's enabling theft, since school officials know they cannot in good
conscience charge a low-income student when that student "loses" a laptop. A
whole new black market for "fenced" laptops has developed around school
districts which are giving out free laptops to all. If a student whose family
income is low enough to qualify for free or subsidized school lunches, the
student generally gets a whole new laptop, no questions asked, when he or she
reports it stolen. Meanwhile, middle- and upper-class students have to pay the
full freight if they "lose" theirs, and with the amount of theft that's going
on, that's a likely prospect in some districts.
Pro: Laptops are
making student projects better because of the direct access to information, and
better presentation techniques.
Con: No, kids with
laptops are simply becoming more adept at plagiarizing and creating
fancy-looking, but shallow, busy work. Sure, they can produce glitzy-looking
products, but they cover up basic deficiencies in academic skills that could
have been delivered to children for far less time and cost with traditional
Pro: Laptops are more cost-effective than
Con: No, an across-the-board student
laptop program is by far the most expensive learning tool a school district
ever buys for its students. A laptop may cost more than $1,000, while a
textbook may cost $50. Yet laptops are prone to break and be stolen with far
more damage than library books ever sustain. Laptops give students access to
all kinds of information, valid AND invalid; but textbooks generally give
peer-reviewed, cross-checked information that is more reliable and accurate. The
ongoing costs of keeping up a laptops-for-all program in a school district are
usually just about as expensive as the first-year, start-up costs when the
district bought all the machines in the first place. And all it takes to break
one is to step on it, which is easy for a child to do these days, since schools
encourage students to use their laptops on the floor, lounging in beanbag
chairs, etc., and there are rarely any demands that low-income students replace
laptops that they break or lose - which gets expensive in districts in which
more than half of the student body is considered "low-income" for purposes of
allocating free or subsidized school meals.
Pro: Laptops make it easier to assess
Con: That gets scary and expensive. What
if nationally standardized tests are given via laptops in the future? Then a
district would have to provide them for each student, and would have to make
sure the network was up and running on test day, or else. Plus, the local
district and its teachers would lose control over what questions are on the
assessment - which, in turn, loses control over the curriculum that is going to
be taught, leading up to that test. Electronic test-taking on a national basis
raises the frightening specter of nationalized schools, as the 20th
Century Nazis and communists had. We don't want to go that way, even if it's
"easier" for teachers and administrators.
Homework: For an idea of the management issues
posed by school-based wireless networks, see:
this fact-packed article on the
laptop issue from Concerned Women for America: