Arlington, VA

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.

On April 1, ARLnow.com reported that the APS 1:1 program “gets high marks from students, but remains polarizing for parents.”

The most up-voted comment to that story cuts to the chase:

“Wow what a surprise, students were for free ipads and laptops, and the parents are wondering if the real estate tax hikes are worth it.” – Black Metal list Krieg

APS staff has been unable to explain how much APS spends annually on the 1:1 elementary iPad program.

On April 2, APS School Board members held a revealing work session with their staff on a variety of budget issues. The discussion of the 1:1 program starts at 3:03:54 and lasts 30 minutes.

On social media, one astute parent accurately summarized the bottom-line conclusion:

“We really don’t know what 1:1 costs us. We have a complex leasing model for these devices, and the tech budget includes more than 1:1. If you drop 1:1 the state still requires a certain ratio of access to devices for testing purposes… They are not saying it, but of course 1:1 has additional costs in terms of staffing and electronic resources that you also save if you drop it… Device budget is somewhere around $4 million a year just for devices, but that does not include staff or subscriptions to e-content…”

But this work session revealed one relevant ball-park number. When APS decided to begin the program in 2nd grade instead of 1st grade, dropping that one year produced a savings of at least $1.1 million.

More studies, analyses, or surveys will not provide significantly more relevant information.

The APS Assistant Superintendent of Instruction is now telling the community that the latest (overly-narrow) evaluation of the 1:1 program will drag on until at least the Fall of 2019. This is simply unacceptable at a time in which APS’s long-term operating budget is unsustainable and the APS Superintendent is suggesting class size increases or cutting much more worthwhile programs like the Outdoor Lab just to balance this year’s operating budget.

The community has been engaging APS in meetings about this program for over five years asking the hard questions. Concerns over elementary school opportunity costs have already prompted a petition asking for low-screen-time options.

Survey results show that half of the class time is spent on devices (40% ES, 53% MS, and 58% HS). The time has come to pull the plug on 1:1 in the elementary grades and go to a shared device model. This will allow access required by the state for testing and allow our youngest learners less screen time. It will give teachers the flexibility to be less tied to the APS Central Office and have more face-to-face instructional interaction with their students. The community has spoken for maintaining the Outdoor Lab. Over time, fewer devices will mean fewer cuts in higher quality experiential activities for children like the Outdoor Lab.

The latest evidence of the health, safety, questionable educational effectiveness, and childhood developmental risks of these devices is disturbing.

We are bombarded almost weekly with mounting evidence that the more time children spend using electronic devices, the greater the risk of physical, psychological, and developmental harm.

A 2015 study reviewing school IT programs in over 36 countries worldwide (not in the United States) concluded that less is better when it comes to using technology, both for reading scores and particularly for math scores.

The health and developmental effects on young children of the current 1:1 elementary iPad program won’t be any clearer 6 months from now, 1 year from now, or 2 years from now.

A report published along with the first phase of APS’s overly narrow 1:1 evaluation was not written by a medical doctor but by a Ph.D. who sells consulting services.  We do not need more consulting on this subject.

Conclusion

Now is the time for the Arlington School Board to lead:

  • vote to phase out the 1:1 iPad program in the elementary grades
  • shift to a shared device approach
  • stop kicking the can down the road for even more studies, analyses, or surveys

Peter Rousselot previously served as Chair of the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC) to the Arlington County Board and as Co-Chair of the Advisory Council on Instruction (ACI) to the Arlington School Board. He is also a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) and a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA). He currently serves as a board member of the Together Virginia PAC-a political action committee dedicated to identifying, helping and advising Democratic candidates in rural Virginia.

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