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.

(4) comments

Kent Misegades

Our government schools have a long list of excuses for their mediocre performance compared to non-government schools and other industrialized nations. The most common is lack of adequate funding, despite the fact that US government per-pupil costs lead the world but results lag far behind the leaders. A new excuse is compliance with state regulations, themselves crafted by the lobbies that flourish from public spending. Our County has options though - private, charter and home schools are exempted from most such rules, the reason they do so well on a much smaller budget. Our County could use its education dollars instead to fund charter schools and provide vouchers to families to make private and home school even more affordable. This would take really bold leadership as the government education industry would likely oppose. Ultimately however parents will vote with their feet.

Kent Misegades

The author has done taxpayers a great service in revealing that the latest call for even more tax dollars for Moore government schools is for more non-teaching bureaucrats and not the hardware itself. Like kudzu, as bureaucracies gain roots they grow and are hard to cut back. What makes this case humorous is the reality that the young are generally better at modern computing than the adults! Case in point - I sat next to a 20 year-old from Wayne County (Goldsboro) on a recent business trip to Houston. He described how - out of boredom sitting in his government middle school - he taught himself programming. He said he will earn over $100,000 this year as a consultant to Microsoft. All self-taught. No college degree, no debt.

Kent Misegades

When our youngest child was in his final years at the Apex government high school around 2005, WCPSS made precisely the same arguments to support massive spending on PCs and Intenet access in its schools. Not surprisingly, IBM’s PC division, based in the Triangle and a big supporter of government schools, won the exclusive contract to supply the PCs. We wondered why we never heard of them actually being used in the classroom. At least in Apex, problems in getting them working left them locked in a storage room.

Richard Wright

The Moore County Commissioners commitments to education are funded by the taxpayer. I am sure the Pilot realizes that a majority of the school funds originate from property taxes and paid in a large part by seniors.

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