As soon as any man says of the affairs of the State "What does it matter to me?" the State may be given up for lost.
- Jean Jaques Rousseau
Changes in the employment market have led to a greater need for 21st century skills and higher education.
As a result, there has been an increase in income inequality and a decrease in class mobility. These broader social
issues have been attributed to inequities in education and less access to current technology for children brought up
in low-income families. To address these issues political and administrative leaders are decreasing the student:computer
ratio. With this hope of ”leveling the playing field” for low-income students, 1:1 (one student per computer) laptop
programs are cropping up all around the country. The largest of these programs is a result of MLTI (Maine’s Learning
Technology Initiative) which provides laptops to all 7th and 8th grade students and many high schools as well. These
programs come at a great cost for schools with limited budgets. The underlying question is whether or not these programs
are achieving their goal.
My dissertation work details the result of mixed-methods study which compared the implementation of 1:1 (one student per computer)
laptop programs and their impact on academic achievement and the development of 21st century skills across socio-economic lines.
The study involved four culturally and socio-economically diverse schools in Maine and California. Although access to computers
in all of the schools was similar, there were stark differences in the implementation of the laptop programs and the use of the
laptops. Teachers at high-SES (socio-economic status) schools were able to smoothly integrate the laptops into the curricula
focusing their use primarily on improving research and analytical skills. Teachers at low-SES schools struggled with learning
and teaching the basics of how to use the technology. High-SES teachers were better trained and prepared to manage the changes
in course structure which were imperative for a successful integration of the technology.
Differences in resources, student-preparedness, teacher-preparedness, and administrative issues could not be completely
overcome by the presence of technology. Although the laptop programs improved computer skills of low-SES students,
high-SES students were able to achieve higher levels of computer fluency. Overall, it was ineffectual in impacting the
steadily growing academic achievement gap and threatens to increase this gap. This is not to advocate removing laptops
from schools, but rather address these other inequities.