22 Aug 2014
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Group Upset that Northville Suspended Parent-Funded Laptop Program Meets Tuesday

The school district said some parents raised concerns that the program was mandatory and an expense their family budgets couldn't bear.

Group Upset that Northville Suspended Parent-Funded Laptop Program Meets Tuesday

A group of Northville Community School District parents who started a pilot project to put laptop computers in the hands of some Amerman Elementary students in the fall of 2012 are holding a meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the school district’s decision to suspend the program, which operates at no cost to the district.

The meeting will be held at the Northville District Library. It follows a decision by the school administration to suspend the parent-led, parent funded technology initiative. In a statement, the group said:

“The District canceled without notice a highly successful, parent-driven, parent-funded laptop program at Amerman. Over 169 PCs worth over $75,000, were purchased. These PC’s had direct, immediate, and demonstrable benefits on students’ computing access, availability, and learning. The unilateral elimination of this program by the administration removed a significant opportunity for involvement and goodwill.”

In an interview with Patch, parent Kevin Kobelsky said he and other parents decided to start the program after a teacher in his son’s ALPS talented and gifted class to help the district catch up with other districts using technology in the classrooms.

Kobelsky is an assistant professor in the business school at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, where he conducts research on how technology affects performance in business and education. He said research solidly supports the use of technology in classrooms to help students become self-directed learners, among other benefits.

The district had passed a technology bond issue and Kobelsky and others thought the voluntary program would be a good way to jump start those efforts without costing the district additional money.

The district already has a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and the parents “piggybacked” on that by arranging for a bulk purchase that made the laptops affordable. The parents agreed that if voluntarily participation fell below 50 percent in a classroom, the plan wouldn’t be offered. But if half or more of the parents with students in the class agreed to make the purchase, the parents would go ahead and purchase computers with the idea that they would share their devices with other students.

Kobelsky said the program worked so well – 100 percent participation in one ALPS classroom, all but two in another ALPS classroom and about 60 percent in a third general education – that the parents approached the 2013-2014 with the idea that the program would be returned.

Last spring when students had been identified for the talented and gifted classes, parents in all six ALPS classrooms supported the project, Kobelsky said. Because parents whose students are in general education classes don’t know what classroom they’ll be in until the fall, the pitch to those parents was delayed until September.

That’s when the school administration stepped in and quashed the program, Kobelsky said.

Administrators said that over the summer, some misunderstandings had surfaced about the voluntary nature of the program. Some parents thought it was a mandatory program and said they couldn’t afford it, the Northville Record reported.

“I don’t think we can ever get to the point where we can tell a class, tell a parent they must do this device,” School Board President Jim Mazurek told the newspaper. “That’s the whole concept of BYOD. It’s to make it flexible. Let them bring what they want, if they want, at a price point they feel they can afford.”

Kobelsky said his group came up with specifications for laptops so a group purchase could be made, amounting to about $470 per computer. With more than 150 students involved, the parents have invested $75,000 in technology without touching the proceeds of the bond issue, he said.

NPS Superintendent Mary Kay Gallagher told the newspaper that the district will be discussing additional use of technology in visioning meetings.

The issue was discussed at a recent school board meeting. Some parents shared Kobelsky’s view, but at least one said the parents’ group is too far ahead of the 1:1 initiative (one laptop for one student) because teachers aren’t prepared to integrate technology into the curriculum. Steve Hoshaw said his child is using a PC as a typewriter and is getting little additional benefit from using it.

The group meeting Tuesday has established a web site, ParentsforTechExcellence.org.

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