Wednesday, March 28, 2012

iPads or cash for teachers?

Instead of having a chance to compete for classroom iPads, would teachers rather divvy up the money for a one-time cash bonus?  Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board member Rhonda Lennon juiced up an already lively discussion of the CMS technology plan by posing that question last night.

The district's move toward a "bring your own technology" digital-rich environment in August has turned technology into a topic everyone has opinions about.  CMS kicked off the push in February by giving school administrators iPads, software and training to use them on classroom walk-throughs.  Next step:  Using about $3.4 million in county money to buy "innovation kits" that provide iPads for the classroom teacher and 10 for the class.

There's not enough money to buy them for everyone,  so CMS is seeking proposals for how teachers would use the devices to boost learning.  Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh said about 300 teams,  with a total of 3,000 teachers,  have applied.  Chief Information Officer Scott Muri said the "target" is to provide the kits for about 1,000 teachers,  but if there are more high-quality applications the district will try to find more money.

Lennon,  who's been skeptical of the iPad push,  asked if CMS could redo this year's budget to spend that money instead on a one-time bonus for teachers,  whose pay has been frozen since 2008.  She said her calculations show it would come to about one percent of a teacher's salary.  "If they want to buy themselves an iPad with it, then go for it," Lennon said.

Hattabaugh said it would be a  "betrayal"  of teachers who have already put work into their proposals.  Board member Joyce Waddell,  a retired teacher,   agreed:  "It would be wonderful if we could have $3 million for teachers, but we have a prior commitment.  We have to trust decisions that we have made."

Vice Chair Mary McCray,  also a retired teacher,  asked if it's possible to do an online poll of teachers to see which they'd prefer.

Chairman Ericka Ellis-Stewart asked how CMS is ensuring that all students get the full digital experience,  even if their teachers don't get iPad kits.

CMS just doesn't have the money to buy devices for each student, Muri said.  He said that would cost around $120 million.  But by combining district money with what donors, PTAs and families can contribute,  he said,  schools can move more quickly into an essential new style of learning

"BYOT is for all children,"  Muri said.

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