The Santa Barbara Unified School District is planning a one-to-one technology pilot program with four schools that would put an iPad in every student’s hands and implement a system of teacher and parent trainings.
Adams Elementary, Franklin Elementary, Washington Elementary and La Cuesta Continuation High schools were selected from 11 schools that wanted to get in for the pilot year, Superintendent Dave Cash said.
Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting was the first time he announced details of the pilot program publicly.
Trying out a schoolwide use of wireless devices — iPads are already being used in many classrooms across the district by teachers and students alike — has been on Cash’s to-do list for a long time.
He and his technology director, Todd Ryckman, believe it will alter the learning environment in a good way, with customization available for students and more communication between teachers and students outside of school. Content is everywhere, and having access to technology helps students with and without means to explore the world, he said.
“It’s not about technology; it’s about the way students learn,” Cash said.
The new Common Core State Standards will require more use of technology and computerized testing in 2014-15, so it’s possible that arming every student with a device like a tablet will be necessary soon enough, some board members noted.
The four schools were chosen for their leadership: Adams Principal Amy Alzina, Franklin Principal Casie Killgore, Washington Principal Anne Hubbard and La Cuesta Principal Frann Wageneck.
Cash said these women have the ability to inspire and educate others, communicate effectively and “to deliver.” Not just that, but the faculties “get it” and are committed to finding ways to make it work, he said.
There have been a lot of concerns over this idea in the past, mostly about money, equal access and network capability.
“For me, this is a civil rights issue,” Ryckman said, adding that it’s an opportunity for every student — regardless of socio-economic status — to get access to an iPad and take it home.
“If we don’t intentionally get involved in an initiative like this," Cash said, "there will be a huge gulf between schools with parents of means and Title 1 schools, and it will be difficult to bridge that gulf.”
As to money, the bottom line is the district doesn’t have enough to fund a full one-to-one program. With the proposed pilot program, every student would use the device in school and at home, which is why they wouldn’t be able to share.
It would use Common Core implementation money (the district gets $2.5 million for the next two years) to fund the pilot year. If parents buy the iPads, as some do, the pilot year obviously would cost the district nothing. If the district has to come up with all the money, it will cost $660,000 — 26 percent of all the Common Core money for just four schools.
Further implementation could cost more than $1 million a year through 2016-17, with potential ongoing cost for incoming students.
“There is no funding source identified to anything beyond the pilot year,” Cash said.
The potential to spend millions of dollars without any increase in student achievement worried board president Monique Limon.
“We can’t fall flat on our face on this one," she said. "I mean, this is a big financial investment.”
She said the district needs to balance the two competing interests of moving to advanced technology and staying fiscally solvent.
The iPad shouldn’t become the next worksheet, just a time waster without any real learning or engagement, she added. The district should be more than prepared to walk away if the results aren’t good enough, she said, and Cash agreed.
Board member Kate Parker had similar sentiments, saying the district shouldn’t overpromise about the program’s results.
It will depend a lot on how much the teachers are comfortable with the technology, board member Pedro Paz said. He added that there have been plenty of technological advances promising to revolutionize the education system, and none has delivered.
Infrastructure issues with spotty wireless coverage have caused the district grief, and Ryckman now says the newer system should be able to handle 15,000 people all using 2.5 devices at once. There are still kinks to work out, but the network has more bandwidth and is more stable and speedier than it has been “in a long, long time,” he said. “We’re fixing things as we go.”
Several schools have teachers using iPads connected wirelessly to Apple TVs, and when the wireless goes out, so does the lesson plan.
“Nothing is more frustrating to a teacher than to find a really cool lesson and to be hampered or stopped by the technology,” Ryckman said.
The item was up for discussion on Tuesday and no action was taken, but the issue will come back at a future Board of Education meeting.