Four years ago Baltimore County began a $147 million program to give all "disadvantaged" students laptops. Given the access to technology, the County had hoped it would boost the lowest standardised test scores in the state.
But according to a new report cited by the Baltimore Sun, the ambitious plan failed to increase achievement. Sadly, many of those students who had received laptops, and have had the computers for at least three years, showed zero improvement.
An evaluation of the programme by Johns Hopkins researchers found that across-the-board increases in student achievement, were absent, and some parents and teachers are now questioning whether the computers are worth the investment.
“These devices do not seem to be improving my kids’ school experience,” said parent Suzanne Persaud – whose three children have had access to the laptops. The school system is “giving them the hardware,” she said, “but not the courses to advance beyond the devices.”
New county executive Johnny Olszwecki says they may drop the free hand-out. “I want to be a data-driven, evidence-based leader here for Baltimore County,” said Olszwecki. “Any program that’s not having the intended gains that we’re spending money on we need to re-evaluate. Especially if it’s compromising our ability to meet other priorities.”
Baltimore County students in grades three through eight were number 18 in the state for math and 19 in English, according to a State Department of Education analysis of Maryland’s 24 school districts.
In Baltimore City — where elementary and middle school children do not have the same access to technology — students did better.
The school district says that the laptop programme was never intended to raise achievement, but rather to allow underpriveleged children access to technology they do not have at home because their families can not afford internet service or computers.
“It has never been about laptops increasing achievement,” said Interim School Superintendent Verletta White. “You have to take a look at all of the impacts and the levers that impact instruction.”