Oct 31 2006

How Ohio Landed One-to-One Computing Funding

Despite funding woes, an Ohio school district launched a successful one-to-one notebook PC program.

Ohio Hi-Point career center brought in Kim Wilson as superintendent in July 2003. When we first met, Wilson told me that she wanted to equip every student in our district with his or her own notebook PC. After hearing those words, I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped. I did some quick calculations in my head, immediately wondering how we could afford, support and manage a one-to-one computing program.

As in many states, getting funding for new programs in Ohio is tough. During the next four years, Ohio is doing away with the personal property tax that our businesses pay each year, which means a loss of $1.2 million per year to my district alone. President Bush’s proposed fiscal year 2007 budget would cut nearly $2.1 billion of federal funding for education, the second cut in as many years.

With school funding the way it is now, how could our school achieve a one-to-one computing environment? To be honest, I almost wrote it off as an unachievable grand idea to focus on other things, e.g., “real” deliverables.

We are very fortunate that we have additional funding sources that help us out, and those sources understand the need for technology in education. We switched some of our textbooks to electronic books to free up budget dollars.

We also had nearly 100 desktop computers that were reaching the end of their usefulness. It would have cost us about $100,000 to replace them. Instead, we invested in notebook PCs. The remainder of the funding came out of the technology department budget, which comes out of the general fund.

At the time we started our one-to-one program, our district had about 450 high school juniors and seniors, but both Wilson and I wanted our enrollment as a career center to grow. We hoped a notebook PC program might stimulate enrollment, because our students see the need to have 21st-century literacy skills. While we could not find definitive statistics, we found research indicating that one-to-one programs could reduce discipline incidents, increase attendance, push average test scores higher and foster better student-to-teacher communication. But most importantly, notebook PCs might help focus better thinking if students used them to manage information during the entire school day, work on assignments at home and network with fellow students.

Three years later, Ohio Hi-Point is one of approximately 10 schools in Ohio that are operating a true one-to-one program, and we’ve seen some drastic changes at our school as a result. Our students are more involved in the education process and more creative in their projects.

Students who would rather not write a report made a movie using Windows Movie Maker software. Other students have been very active in blogs rather than doing traditional reports. The cafeteria is quieter than before as students use that time for working on projects with their notebook PCs.

We have seen some amazing things from our students this year that we have never seen before. Students with learning disabilities and poor reading skills are using their notebook PCs to pace their own learning. These students are scoring much better on tests than in years past. Also of importance, our tentative enrollment numbers for next school year are up — way up! Last year at this time, we had 275 applications for enrollment. This year, we have more than 400 — that’s more than a 45 percent increase in enrollment.

What accounts for the increase? Students are telling their friends about the educational environment at our school, where each student gets to work with his or her own computer.

John Case is technology coordinator for the Ohio Hi-Point Career Center in Bellefontaine, Ohio, which offers one-to-one computing to its students. His Web site is www.schooltechtools.com.