Kansas School District Rolls Out 1:1 MacBook Program


In one of the poorer districts in the Kansas City, KS metropolitan area--where more than 75 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches--administrators and school board members have launched a project to ensure that their students have all the technological advantages that wealthier students have in their education. The district serving that area, Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools (KCKPS), is giving every high school student and teacher a laptop for use in the classroom and at home--and not just any laptop, but dual-core Intel-based MacBook laptops from Apple, which were distributed to students Nov. 6 and 7 district-wide, about 5,400 systems total.

Technology for Achievement
KCKPS, in Wyandotte County, has experienced a turnaround in achievement of late and, according to district spokesman David A. Smith, assistant to the superintendent for communications, wants to continue investing in its students to raise achievement even higher. Ten years ago, student proficiency in math and reading were at 11 percent and 3 percent, respectively. Both of those have shot up to 53 percent. But that isn't enough.

"We've demonstrated that we can really impact proficiency," Smith said. "Additional technology will accelerate what we're trying to do at the secondary level."

Part of that process will include laptop systems to help students with their studies and with their technological fluency by giving them the tools that they'll use at the college and professional levels. The district had set up computer labs in its schools, but scheduling time in the labs was difficult, sometimes impossible, owing to testing that takes place in those labs. With their own laptops, students can have unfettered, 24-hour access to technology for learning--curriculum-oriented and otherwise.

On the curriculum side, students will be able to use the systems for classroom studies, for accessing assignments and related materials, for conducting online research, and for using online learning aids. Beyond the classroom, students will be able to use the laptops to explore the technologies and to become producers of media and information themselves.

Students 'Not Just Consumers'
That's one of the reasons the district went with Mac OS X-based systems for the 1:1 laptop program. Smith said he envisions students getting creative with their computers, and the Mac-based systems come fully loaded with a full suite of creative software in the form of iLife, which includes DVD production software (iDVD), an NLE (iMovie), and a full podcasting and music production environment (GarageBand).

"We expect [students] to be producers of information, not just consumers," Smith said. Individual schools and teachers will be developing projects with students that include video editing, DVD authoring, podcasting, and creating other forms of art and digital media. "[The MacBooks] come ready out of the box with programs students can use immediately to start doing things creatively."

The new laptops, purchased over the summer, are running Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger). The district does hold licenses for the latest version of Mac OS X (Leopard) and will likely upgrade the systems the next time they're collected for reissue.

In addition to the stock iLife applications that come with the MacBooks, other creative applications may be given out to students who are in classes that would benefit from them. These would include Apple Final Cut Studio (for students in video production classes) and Adobe Photoshop. For everyday productivity, the machines are loaded with Microsoft Office.

There are other reasons the district went with Mac systems for its 1:1 initiative besides their creative capabilities, Smith explained. "Apple seems to have spent a lot of time thinking how to integrate their technology with education ... with teaching and learning. They've provided us with tremendous support." This support included having 15 Apple representatives on hand at various distribution sites on the days the laptops were handed out to students to help answer questions for parents, show students how to log in, etc.

The district's middle and elementary schools, which do not yet have 1:1 programs, but have about three computers per classroom, are mixed computing environments (Macs and Windows-based PCs).

Hurdles to Implementation
The process of getting the 1:1 program in place did have its hurdles. Funding, of course, is an issue for a poor district. But, surprisingly, there was also some skepticism on the part of the community--not about which laptops to choose or whether a laptop program would impact achievement positively, but concerns about the students themselves. Alarmingly, among some members of the community, there was "skepticism about whether the kids could handle it," Smith said. There were even suggestions that the students might sell the computers to buy drugs--a suggestion very publicly voiced by a DJ on a local radio station.

However, trust in the students won over in the end.

"Giving laptops to poor kids is believing in them," Smith said. "It means going the extra mile. We think our kids are worth it, and they deserve it."

Like all laptop programs, the KCKPS 1:1 initiative was developed with security in mind. Students sign acceptable use policies, and a number of security technologies are built into the machines, rendering them useless should they be stolen or lost. In the event of theft, the MacBooks can be disabled remotely. They also have tracking capabilities built in and tags that make them easily identifiable should they be stolen and put up for sale.

Funding, surprisingly, was not as much of an issue as it could have been. Smith said the program will cost the district about $1.6 million annually, but the funds are coming out of the capital outlay budget, which is also used for the renovation of physical facilities, such as athletic fields.

Smith said that when the district considered it, they thought that while renovating fields might benefit some students, a laptop program would benefit all of them. And that, Smith said, is a new kind of thinking. Where previously it was a given that some students would be successful while others fell through the cracks, now the district is aiming to make sure that all students are poised for academic success and that none, if at all possible, fall through.

"Technology is one of the things that would allow us to do it. Maybe we wouldn't have the nicest athletic fields, but our goal is to get every student ready to be successful in college," he said.

Also as part of the funding issue, the district decided to lease the computers it gives to students so that, years down the road, it wouldn't be stuck with a pile of obsolete computers, ensuring that future high school students in the district have access to the latest technology available.

As of this writing, the 1:1 Mac laptop program was just in its opening phases. Although teachers received their laptops back in May, students were still receiving their MacBooks as we spoke with Smith. But even on Day 1, Smith said he saw immediate results, with students hopping on their new laptops and exploring the Internet. We will check back in and update this story once the program is in full swing and students have had a chance to get to work on their new systems.

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About the author: David Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's online education technology publications, including THE Journal and Campus Technology. He can be reached at [email protected].

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at [email protected].

About the Author

David Nagel is the former editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal, STEAM Universe, and Spaces4Learning. A 30-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art, marketing, media, and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidrnagel/ .