For most of us, school meant chalk blackboards, dog-eared textbooks and desks arranged in semi-neat rows. School is not now — and never will go back to — that. Those days are as gone as Dick and Jane readers.
Today’s classroom is wired, and its key learning
media are computers rather than textbooks. Students are more capable of developing multimedia presentations that incorporate the basic elements of mechanical or electrical engineering than telling you what capital today used to be called Constantinople. You’re more likely to get answered with a 3-D printer rendering of Istanbul.
What used to be called “digital learning” is now just simply called “learning.” And so it’s time we stopped treating all this like it’s something special and outside the normal course.
North Carolina, like many other states, is holding its public schools accountable to new standards, grading on how well it is “going digital.” For the past two years the state has funded computer content — annual subscriptions to learning materials, DVDs and the like — rather than textbooks.
This all takes money to maintain, upgrade and replace. Since 2014, the school district has received from county commissioners $750,000 for digital learning. This money has largely been spent to deploy and maintain inexpensive Chromebooks to all middle and high school students. It has also covered some infrastructure costs.
Expenses Are Growing
The district’s spending needs on technology far outstrip that $750,000. For instance, it spends local salary dollars for “digital integration facilitators,” staff members who divide their time among the schools helping teachers to build technology applications into curriculum requirements and lesson plans.
Upgrading the technology infrastructure inside each school is also expensive. Much of that equipment has effective lifespans of five years, with no hope of getting replacement parts to keep components operating longer. That means replacing and upgrading on regular cycles to ensure the learning and communication continues uninterrupted.
When Moore County Schools looked at these expenses a year ago, Schools Superintendent Bob Grimesey said then, “This isn’t just pie in the sky luxury stuff so that Moore County can be No. 1 in the world. This is because we have students that depend on these technologies now. It’s not like we have a choice.”
Some state and federal dollars are available, but the former is down from past years, and the latter is not always a certain thing. That puts the onus on us.
A New Commitment Needed
Grimesey’s right; Moore County doesn’t have a choice for how well it complies with incorporating technology. The state issues a grade from 1-4 to its school districts based on things like how much digital training teachers have, whether the system has a data-informed plan in place to develop programs, and how the system purchases content. Moore County’s grade is 2.6 — not bad, but not great either.
We cannot continue thinking $750,000 a year is sufficient for “digital learning.” The school system projects it will need that much alone this coming year to begin upgrading all of its old infrastructure. And that’s before buying the first new computer or even touching the long-term goal of expanding one-to-one computers to grades 3-5.
“The plan was always that we would grow to grades 3, 4 and 5,” says Grimesey. “And that need has actually become more important than it was in 2014. We’ve been patient these last few years as we’ve worked through some other issues, but we’re now coming to the point where we really need to have a consistent and equitable distribution of Chromebook capacity.”
The Moore County commissioners have long demonstrated their commitment to education. Lately, much of that support has been directed to building new schools and renovating others. But we can’t lose sight of what powers the learning today.
Schools without digital connectivity today are as dark as schools without electricity.