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An iPad for Every Student? Florida’s Textbook-Closing Switch Would Cost $441 Million

| October 10, 2012

But is it worth it? (Brad Flickering)

The State Board of Education put a price tag on the state’s share of a transition to digital learning materials for public school students across Florida — $441 million — while signaling that it also supports school districts having more freedom to select their textbooks.

The digital learning figure is part of the State Department of Education’s $15.2 billion budget request to the Legislature, which would mark a 4.4 percent increase in the department’s spending plan above the current fiscal year. The board approved the request Tuesday.

Lawmakers are expected to potentially have a $71.3 million surplus to work with for the budget year that begins July 1, but even some budget-writers are cautious of that figure.

Lawmakers have helped drive the state toward more reliance on digital learning materials, passing a bill two years ago requiring schools to adopt digital-only textbooks by the 2015-16 school year and spend at least half their textbook budget on electronic materials.

The budget proposal from the department focuses more on the nuts-and-bolts approach to making that happen: Setting up schools with the capability to make iPads and Kindles useful and making sure that students actually have the devices.

The plan would devote almost $239 million to equipping schools with wireless Internet capabilities, something that 1,616 schools in Florida — almost half the total — currently lack. It would take another $151 million to make sure that every school in the state has access to quality broadband Internet access; 263 schools in Florida have no broadband access at all.

The final $51.7 million would be spent to defray some of the costs of increasing the number of computing devices that students could use — such as iPads, though the department would not require districts to use a certain brand or device. The proposal accounts for leasing each of the devices for three years at $170 a year.

“That’s a great price,” said David Stokes, chief information officer for the State Department of Florida. “Well, how are we going to do that? It’s going to be extremely challenging.”

Stokes said he believed that the state could get the deal by working with vendors.

At the same time, board members are preparing to challenge the textbook adoption process. Districts have to use the state list created by the process for some, but not all, of their textbook purchases. But several board members voiced support for getting rid of textbook adoption, freeing districts to use whatever materials they want for the classroom.

Roberto Martinez, the vice chairman of the board, said the move would allow school districts more flexibility to reach goals set by the state.

“If they want to use textbooks, let them use textbooks,” he said. “If they want to use primary-source material, fine. Digital, fine. Whatever it is. But I think we’re at that stage where we can give them that kind of freedom to accomplish the outcomes that we want.”

A textbook flexibility bill included in the department’s priorities would begin to move the state away from the process. Instead, officials envision a system where the department will offer to vet materials for districts that might not have the resources to review the materials on their own.

Okaloosa County Superintendent Alexis Tibbetts, president of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, enthusiastically supported the change.

“That’s going to be the answer to prayer,” she said.

But board members and supporters of the move warned that any effort to get rid of the policy will likely face a fierce fight in the Legislature by publishers.

Indeed, Jay Diskey, executive director of the school division of the Association of American Publishers, said in an interview that the state should preserve textbook adoption.

“The process in Florida has been a way for Florida to ensure that its school standards appear in the curriculum,” Diskey said.

He also noted that Florida is one of nearly 40 states that are preparing to move toward a more standardized curriculum.

“It’s probably the worst possible time for Florida to walk away from this process,” he said.

–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida

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13 Responses for “An iPad for Every Student? Florida’s Textbook-Closing Switch Would Cost $441 Million”

  1. Dave Riegel says:

    Here is the real story, in my humble opinion. Do the Common Core State Standards represent an assault on the teaching of great literature? CCSS overwhelmingly emphasize non fiction, information text and technical reading. My fear is that schools will respond by have traditional English and reading instruction geared towards non fiction while squeezing out fiction poetry and drama. It’s a huge mistake, for more reasons than I can elucidate here. On balance the CCSS are a huge step forward, but if schools implement them by squeezing out literature it will be a devastating unintended consequence. Whether the books are on a screen or paper doesn’t really matter to me, as long as kids are reading widely and deeply.

  2. Rob Frederick says:

    Sounds great…up to the time when a child uses their iPad to access porn.

    • patti bissonnette says:

      I wonder how they are going to handle kids breaking and losing them…or moving away and keeping them? Just wonder how they can make people who don’t have the money replace them if their kid’s ipad gets stolen?

      • Nancy N. says:

        Patti, I believe that most districts that issue electronic devices like laptops (yes, there are places that do that) have insurance policies on them that protect them against such losses.

        Although I have to say, my autistic 9 year old daughter barely goes anywhere without her iPad that she’s had for a couple of years. It is, in many ways, how she interacts with the world. That thing has been through the wars. She is motor skill impaired which makes her clumsy, and she has no concept of the word “careful” in her hyperactive world. But the thing has barely a scratch on it, thanks to the wonders of Gorilla glass and the right case. It’s possible to break them, but not nearly as easy as you’d think. You have to work pretty darn hard at it.

    • Anonymous says:

      good point Rob

  3. roco says:

    Somemore lack of ability to teach students from the board, the teachers and their union.. This will distance the teachers furthure away from the student and gives the students another toy to play with.. If Ipads are a requirement the parents should buy them not the tax payers. Just another flaunting of tax payer dollars by a bounce of incompitant people.. Tax payers remember this when you vote..

  4. Nancy N. says:

    Ahh yes, it only took one comment for the porn boogeyman to rear it’s head. Why am I not surprised? Denying kids access to a fabulous educational tool because it could possibly be misused by a small portion of them if they aren’t correctly supervised is allowing fear to limit our children’s potential.

    As the parent of a child with a disability (autism), I am a firm believer in the use of these devices with kids. They can serve as both educational devices and as assistive and therapeutic devices for kids with disabilities. In addition to their use as textbook readers, the range of apps aimed at the educational market is amazing, and that will expand even more as they are offered in more and more classroom settings. These are tools that can help our kids succeed, and we should be taking advantage of them.

    • Ralph says:

      Good to know the I pad is so wonderful. Get the school board to give you lower taxes so you can buy one and then watch your child closely with it. Pedophiles also use the internet.

  5. Vanessa Cheesewright says:

    Well, the kids will definitely be computer literate upon leaving school. That’s for sure. Thanks to the computer and internet people are reading more, have instant access to information/data/research, and trees will be saved. The internet is anarchy…and every student will have access?…interesting times ahead

    • Richard Moore says:

      Unfortunately, iPads aren’t quite computers, the skills that they will learn on them won’t really translate into marketable skills. Think of tablets as glorified smart phones.

  6. blondee says:

    OK parents, fill me in on this. Do students still learn penmanship and multiplication and division (on paper!). It seems to me the basics are being lost in these high-tech classrooms. Yes, it’s been a looong time since I’ve been in school, but we all need to know how to calculate 20% of something in our heads, don’t we?

    • Nancy N. says:

      My fourth grade daughter is currently regularly bringing home paper worksheets of math homework that are multiplication and division. She’s expected to complete the problems on paper and show her work. Which is a problem because the child is a math genius and does it all in her head LOL She hasn’t gotten to percentages yet. I totally agree about the value of being able to calculate those things in your head. I do it a lot, between shopping and my work.

      I was just having a Facebook discussion a few days ago with some of my mom friends about the issue of cursive handwriting not being taught in schools. Many districts are abandoning teaching it, not because of technology, but because of standardized tests. Districts are teaching to the FCAT (or its equivalent in other states) and cursive is not on standardized tests. So many districts won’t “waste” time and resources on it, preferring to put those resources toward things they – I mean the kids, ahem – are tested on.

      The lack of cursive instruction my daughter is getting doesn’t bother me. She is motor skill impaired and struggles to hold a pencil and print legibly. I know she’ll always be more comfortable at a keyboard. But a lot of my friends were quite upset about the lack of cursive, thinking it would be a serious handicap for their kids to not know it. I will admit I was surprised at how strongly some of them felt about it.

  7. glad fly says:

    God forbid these little darlings use real books like in the “old days”…..they’re already obese,lazy, and have horrible attitudes towards teachers and authority figures….give me a freaking break.

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