Peter’s Take: APS Macbook Decision Flunks Transparency Test

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotOn Aug. 27, ARLnow.com revealed that Arlington Public Schools (APS) has decided to give a new Macbook Air computer to every ninth-grader at Wakefield, Washington-Lee and Yorktown high schools.

Regardless of whether APS’ decision is right or wrong, the decision badly flunks any reasonable test of transparency.

Whether to undertake this initiative cries out for a thoughtful, careful process of advance consultation with parents and the public. The failure to have such a process precede the decision reflects remarkable tone deafness.

Here are just some of the reasons why the decision is wrong according to angry ARLnow commenters:

  • There is too large a mismatch between the way the current curriculum is structured and the ability to use a personal computer in the classroom effectively, so it is premature to introduce personal computers in the classroom until this mismatch is corrected;
  • Too many teachers cannot use effectively the technology tools they already have (Smartboards and TVs), so it is not realistic to believe those teachers will be able effectively to integrate the new personal computers into their classroom instruction;
  • Being prepared for the 21st century means learning how to budget one’s financial resources, and the message we’re sending kids by paying for them to have free Macs is that everyone can just have what’s very expensive and hip at everyone else’s expense;
  • Even if a requirement that all HS Freshmen have a Macbook Air is appropriate, that requirement should be imposed first on the parents, with financial assistance made available to every family that cannot afford to purchase one;
  • Given the capacity crisis APS faces, the money spent on purchasing these personal computers is better spent directly alleviating that crisis.

If you are part of APS’ management, and you believe that you have excellent answers to every one of the points noted above, and therefore that the public reaction to this decision is overblown, you are missing the point.

When you are using our taxpayer dollars to implement a decision like this one, you should be willing to stand up before the public, justify your decision, and engage with the public regarding its concerns.

APS management seems to be fixated on large-scale programs placing PCs in the hands of students. Remember the 1:1 initiative? More recently, at least one elementary school — Campbell — is planning to give iPads to all second graders — apparently without consulting parents or the public.

But, APS management hasn’t engaged with the Arlington community as to why APS thinks it can do better with these PC initiatives than Hoboken, N.J. Like many other school districts, Hoboken tried, but now has abandoned, its PC-for-every-student program.

APS has failed to meet its burden to prove it is ready to implement such programs in an effective way.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.