Wave of the future, or cover for fewer teachers?
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Former New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein, currently the CEO of Amplify, said this week that his company has sold 21,215 electronic learning tablets to middle schools in Guilford County, North Carolina.
Wireless/ Amplify is a division of News Corp, the media conglomerate headed by Rupert Murdock, publisher of the New York Post. According to NPR, Murdoch has described education as a market worth “hundreds of billions of dollars.”
Students and teachers in 24 middle schools will start using the tablets this September. The deal is for four years, and the tablets will be largely paid for through federal Race to the Top funds, the company said.
According to Amplify, the devices, which run on Android, are an “all-in-one” classroom solution which will allow children to learn at their own pace and simplify classroom administration and lesson planning.
“This is one of the largest 1-to-1 deployments, if not the single largest, to date in K-12 education,” Klein said in a statement.
The Wi-Fi enabled tablets come preloaded with teaching software, third-party reference materials such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and resources aligned to the Common Core State Standards.
Many parents and some educators feel that classroom computers are the wave of the future. Proponants point to Khan Academy, an educational website that lets anyone watch Salman Khan’s homemade instructional videos and learn almost anything for free.
With scant research to show that technology improves learning, however, some education advocates fear the push to introduce the tablets into the classroom is a cover for larger class sizes and fewer teachers.
These fears may play out in Guilford County, facing the loss of 200 classroom assistants in September because of budget cuts.
While students in the district have been steadily improving academically over the past few years, Guilford County Schools Superintendent Mo Green told the News & Record he feared students would not continue to improve if the cuts were put in place.
District officials also have cut bus service and central office staff, plan to increase class size, and have scaled back spending on educator training. GCS officials said they have scrapped plans for a camp to boost reading skills for up to 1,500 second-graders this summer.
Some parent worry the tablets will intrude on their children’s privacy, as increasing amounts of information about students are logged into databases accessible to vendors interested in moving product.
New York City parents were outraged last month when they learned that the city had handed their children’s personal information over to inBloom Inc., a Gates-funded corporation, which plans to share the information with for-profit vendors to help them market learning products.
Reportedly, information is being collected from as far back as 1996 and is being stored on an Amazon cloud built by Wireless/Amplify.
While schools across the country are jumping on the technology bandwagon, hundreds of high-tech employees of companies like Google, Apple, Yahoo and HP in Silicon Valley are choosing to send their children to the private Waldorf School of the Peninsula, where kids get plenty of face time with teachers in small classrooms -- and computers are not allowed.
“The idea that an app on an iPad can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic, that’s ridiculous,” Google employee and father Alan Eagle, told the New York Times.