Start your district’s one-to-one rollout slowly and work out the inevitable bugs first to avoid failure, says Lori Gracey, Bastrop’s executive director of technology.

Jul 22 2008

Affording One-to-One

Funding is the key issue, but these districts have solved the dilemma in creative ways.

Funding is the key issue, but these districts have solved the dilemma in creative ways.

Alaska’s Pete Vraspir says shopping “real hard” for parts has allowed him to lower the price of needed repairs. Even screen replacements can cost as little as $200.

For many districts, the question is no longer should we or when will we, but how can we not?

The subject, of course, is one-to-one, and in the last few years the scales have quietly shifted in K–12 education. Eight years after Maine Gov. Angus King created the first large-scale, one-to-one school notebook program in the country, the idea of giving each student a computer seems less radical and more common-sense.

Yet even with one-to-one programs sprouting across the country, and indeed the globe, the vast majority of students aren’t included. Why?

One word: funding. Realizing that your district should step into the 21st century and finding a way to put a fully functional PC in your students’ hands are two different things. For many districts, not having funds is the end of one-to- one consideration.

But here’s the news: Around the country, examples of schools finding ways to pay for these programs are multiplying like a third grader with a calculator.

“We’re past the tipping point,” says Bruce Dixon, president of the Anytime, Anywhere Learning Foundation. “I started [advocating for one-to-one] 12 years ago, and the first five or six years were hard. Now people realize the inevitability of it.”

The two basic models of paying for these programs are when districts simply put the need first and reduce spending in other areas, or when schools get creative and try to use multiple sources of funding — including parents.

Just Do It

Three years ago, Pueblo (Colo.) District 70 was in the same boat as many districts. Starting a one-to-one was a goal of the Board of Education, but not much more.

“If you think you can’t afford this, you never will,” says IT Services Director Tim Yates. When the finance person was able to squeeze $3.4 million in savings from an existing heating system contract, the district was on its way. A $2.3 million interest-free bond from the state was the other big contribution.

Now, each of the 3,000 high school students in this rural district has a notebook, while interactive whiteboards dot each elementary and middle school classroom, with notebook carts in the middle school. Yates says three pieces helped the district go from aspirational to operational. One was a visionary leader who not only saw the importance of this program but also was able to convince skeptics; two was the buy-in from the school board; three was the close relationship between the district’s technology and finance departments.

Each machine carries a four-year warranty, a four-year accidental-damage insurance policy and Computrace, a software program that can help recover lost or stolen machines. Students are charged a user fee to cover the insurance costs, and Yates says the plan is to sell used notebooks to students for a cut-rate price when they graduate.

The story is a little different in Denali Borough (Alaska) School District. CIO Pete Vraspir notes that Denali has no property tax, no state income tax and no sales tax to help fund its one-to-one program. Of course, what the state does have is a big oil pipeline that brings in a lot of money.

Even so, Denali needed multiple sources of funding to finally get its program airborne. The district received $5 million from the state, squeezed some money out of a rural utility and services grant and received a Carl Perkins technology grant.

The district started a four-year lease to give computers to each student from grades six to 12, about 180 in all. When Vraspir looked at how Denali would sustain the program, he realized that the district would have to institute a user fee.

Denali charges each student $65 per year, but offers to sell the notebooks to them when they graduate for $1. “The last day of school, seniors are lined up with a dollar bill in their hand,” he says.

Funding the infrastructure is a bigger issue in Denali than probably anywhere else in the country. The district pays $100,000 for Internet access that would probably cost a few thousand in the lower 48, Vraspir says. For this reason, the district relies heavily on E-Rate funds, he adds.


When Tony Anderson, the CIO of Fullerton (Calif.) School District, planned his one-to-one program, the one thing he knew for sure was that the money wouldn’t come from his district’s budget. California’s per-pupil spending is one of the lowest in the country, so from the beginning Anderson says he “positioned [the one-to-one] plan as a partnership between the school district and parents.”

Starting four years ago in this K–8 district, Fullerton charged parents $450 a year for the notebook, insurance and warranty coverage. At the end of this period, parents would own the machine. Donations help the district pay for half the cost of the computer when parents request assistance.

To help sustain the initiative, Fullerton created its own high-end fundraiser, raising $100,000 a year. This money helps buy computers for families who can’t afford the fee.

Even with this fall-back position, the program got the American Civil Liberties Union’s attention. A small group of parents who could afford the program felt it should be offered free. They sued the district, and while Anderson says the district was confident that the program was legal, it reached a settlement to avoid a lengthy and expensive process.

To meet the conditions of the agreement, Fullerton must poll parents at each school regarding their willingness to participate in the program by paying for a lease or requesting assistance. If less than 90 percent of parents agree, schools participating in the program need to spend enough money to buy additional notebooks for that school to reach the 90 percent threshold. Anderson says schools that haven’t made the 90 percent mark have needed to raise as little at $2,500 or as much as $9,000.

Sustainability is still a concern for Anderson, even with a consistent source of money to replace the notebooks. “The longer we operate this, the more complicated it gets,” he says, noting that because the program starts with second grade, some middle school students have notebooks that are four years old.

Clovis (Calif.) Unified School District had one of the first notebook programs in the country, starting 11 years ago, and over the years has reached more than 10,000 students.

If parents say they can’t afford the program, believe them, several officials say. Putting layers of paperwork between applicants and financial assistance creates bad feelings, they add.

Officials knew that they would have to have parents pay for the PCs, so they rolled out the program slowly. The district created a separate set of classes for students who were in the notebook program, allowing them to take the same courses as non-notebook users, but with a more technological bent. The district did purchase some PCs to ensure that class sizes remained constant in and out of the one-to-one program.

Almost immediately, says Chris Edmondson, the district’s coordinator of technology training, parents saw the added value to their children’s education and wanted them to be included.

The district paid attention to its infrastructure needs, beefing up its Internet connections and running its own service department that can not only fix most problems, but also hand out a loaner to the affected students. “There’s nothing worse than a kid getting a virus and not having a computer for a week,” Edmondson says.

Getting buy-in from parents helps with the program’s sustainability, he says, avoiding the biggest one-to-one mistake he’s seen through the year. “You can having the funding and have the vision, that’s great,” Edmondson says. “But where’s the money to keep it going? That’s always the issue.”

Dixon couldn’t agree more. Getting parents to contribute something to the cost of the program, even if only for insurance, means “everybody has skin in the game,” he says.

“There are a lot of components to make this work,” Dixon adds. “This takes time.”


Bilingual Success

This growing Texas district found unexpected benefits when it rolled out its one-to-one program.

Explain your one-to-one setup.

For the past four years, fourth graders in Bastrop (Texas) Independent School District have had Palm computers. Last school year, the district rolled out notebooks to each fifth- and sixth-grader — 1,300 students in all. (Bastrop ISD has 8,500 students, 550 teachers and 13 schools.)

“I spent a lot of time with the school board explaining the need,” says Lori Gracey, the executive director of technology.

Although many districts start with the high school and expand the program to their middle schools, Gracey did the opposite. Because the potential for hacking and visiting inappropriate sites was greater at the high school, she says, “I wanted to get all the bugs out before I went there.”

How did the district pay for the program?

So far, the district has paid for the programs out of its general fund. It cost $2 million for the notebooks and software, and another $2 million to update the district’s infrastructure, says Gracey. “We replaced our T1 lines with fiber, bought more servers, and updated our hubs with switches.” Each student received an HP 6105 with a 2-gigabyte hard drive, Bluetooth, a 15-inch screen and two batteries.

Gracey does admit the funds to sustain this program can’t come from the district’s general fund every year. Sometime in the future, the district will have to float a technology bond, allowing all residents to vote on whether it should pass. Although the district’s last bond attempt 10 years ago failed, Gracey says, “I don’t think its [passage] will be an issue now. All our parents are on board.”

Fourth graders were given PDAs because they were less expensive than notebooks, and because “they don’t need quite as much computing power,” Gracey adds. The units, including probeware and software, cost the district about $300 per student.

What problems have you encountered?

“I think the hardest part, which surprised me, was management issues,” Gracey says, referring to teachers who were not clear on how to discipline students who were misusing the PCs. Because teachers knew the district had invested a lot in the program, they were hesitant to tell students to stop using the notebooks, even if the activity wasn’t class-related.

Gracey was also surprised that the majority of parents expected the school to handle the Internet filtering question even when the student was using the PC from home.

What successes have you Achieved?

Gracey relates this story to show how wide the impact of a one-to-one program can be: Bastrop is a growing community with a 40 percent Hispanic population. Once when Gracey stopped at a neighborhood grocery store, she spied a cluster of children with one of the district’s notebooks. Intrigued, she edged closer to see what they were doing. The group was listening to one of the audiobooks that Gracey had loaded with each machine. When the children’s mother came out, she grabbed Gracey’s hand and started to talk to her. With one of the children translating into English, the mother explained that at night the entire family sits around the kitchen table and listens to a chapter of Harry Potter in English. She said the family wrote down any words they didn’t understand and looked them up. So the whole family was learning English together.

What advice do you have for other districts ready to start a program?

Prior to starting its one-to-one program, the curriculum staff had the district’s entire curricula rewritten. “That was one of our big selling points,” Gracey adds, having teachers rewrite the curricula to take into account the technology. “When I talked to other districts, [they all said] teachers don’t have the time to find good lessons [using the new technology]. We said, ‘Here’s a starting point for you.’”

Bastrop started small, hoping to conquer problems before they became overwhelming. “So [much] will come up that you can’t anticipate,” Gracey says. “It doesn’t take much to [have people say], ‘This won’t work.’”

Gracey’s last bit of advice was to make sure the PCs are loaded with learning tools. “Children will see it as a toy and will load games onto it,” she says. “If you give them something that has a lot of other tools, it becomes more about learning.” Her district’s notebooks have audiobooks, encyclopedias, science probeware and textbooks.


Tablets for All

Digital ink allows math teachers to fully participate in one-to-one.

Explain your one-to-one setup.

Once the Fountain–Fort Carson High School in Fountain, Colo., decided to make the leap, it bought tablet computers for all its teachers at the beginning of the 2006 school year. Principal Jim Calhoun says the school chose tablets because one of the other one-to-one schools they visited mentioned that its math teachers tended not to use the PCs because they needed to write equations using math symbols.

When the teachers praised the tablets, the district changed course and decided to order the same computer for students. “It’s easier on the teachers [for students to have the same machine]. The technology with digital ink is progressing so quickly,” adds Calhoun. Also, with the tablet, students can write at their desk and maintain eye contact with the front of the class.

By the middle of the 2006 school year, the school had outfitted 12 classes of students with tablets. In the 2007 school year, every student got a machine.

How did the district pay for the program?

“We’re not doing anything magical,” Calhoun says. “Our school board just supports it and they move money around to pay for it.”

The district started a three-year lease on the tablets for $3 million. Calhoun emphasizes that the district isn’t rich, and in fact it is one of the lesser-funded schools in the state. The district has a history of smart financial decisions and currently carries no bonds, debt or increased mill levy, as do other districts in Colorado.

What problems have you encountered?

While Fountain–Fort Carson oversaturated the school with wireless access points to avoid any problems, the school was caught short on bandwidth. “We had to take [our access] from 10 megabytes to 100MB,” Calhoun says.

The school also was surprised to find that plagiarism increased with the arrival of the machines. “We didn’t spend enough time with our younger students talking about the plusses and minuses of the Internet,” the principal says. To compensate, the school will now include a section in its freshman social studies class on ethics, plagiarism and how to identify official-looking websites that are really fakes.

What successes have you Achieved?

Using the tablet’s multimedia properties, students have been publishing their work online, not just turning it in to the teacher, Calhoun says. “This brings a different level of accountability, and they have been much more willing to listen to feedback,” he says. “Our kids will go to college a step ahead of others because of this.”

The computers have broken the lecture mold in classrooms, with many students explaining how to use the new technology to their teachers. “What a motivating factor for kids. That’s the direction we need to be going in school reform,” Calhoun says.

What advice do you have for other districts ready to start a program?

Fountain–Fort Carson visited a (not so) nearby one-to-one school. “I wasn’t in the building five minutes, and I knew we had to go one-to-one,” Calhoun says. “It was like the Renee Zellweger character said in Jerry Maguire, ‘You had me at hello.’ I was amazed at the level of play [computers got]. It raised kids’ interaction with technology.”

Officials made the eight-hour drive to Hayes, Kan., a total of three times, bringing teachers, parents and administrators. This helped get buy-in from all sides, and the long ride allowed the groups to debrief on the way home.

Closing In

As Classrooms for the Future brings this Pennsylvania high school closer to one-to-one, officials think about how to make the next leap.

Explain your one-to-one setup.

Pennsylvania’s Classrooms for the Future program is spending $20 million over three years to outfit core classes with notebooks and other 21st-century tools.

Technically, Cornwall-Lebanon (Pa.) School District doesn’t have a one-to-one program. But thanks in part to state money from Classrooms for the Future, the district does have more than 1,000 PCs for its 1,700-student Cedar Crest High School. This means that all students in core classes can use a notebook, says Coordinator of District Technology Jason Murray.

As the program heads into its third year, Cedar Crest hopes to get state funding to add an additional 500 notebooks for the coming year, Murray says.

How did the district pay for the program?

While Cornwall-Lebanon didn’t have to pay for its latest shipment of 500-plus PCs, Murray says the district did spend money to update its infrastructure. “There’s a lot of hidden costs involved,” he says, mentioning upgrading the electrical system in the school as well as its wireless infrastructure.

What problems have you encountered?

Getting so close to one-to-one only makes district leaders try harder to accomplish it soon, Murray says. The high school is investigating allowing juniors and seniors to bring their own computers on campus to use during classes. Murray says the district will have to make sure the students’ PCs are up-to-date on antivirus software and spam filters, as well as installing software to protect the school’s server from malware, viruses and worms.

What successes have you Achieved?

The influx of computers “has really shifted our way of teaching,” Murray says. “It’s almost opened up the floodgates.”

Once the school learned the notebooks were coming, both teachers and students were busy talking about the possibilities. Murray says teachers who hadn’t heard of wikis and blogs were all of a sudden creating their own. One teacher regularly uses a webcam to project a demonstration onto a Promethean whiteboard, allowing the whole class to watch. Other teachers have begun scanning hard copies and uploading them, taking their class a big step toward being paperless. “I would have never thought of doing what they do,” Murray adds.

What advice do you have for other districts ready to start a program?

Make sure your teachers and curricula are ready for the change. “We were a little slow in integrating the technology,” Murray says. The district got a state grant to allow 20 teachers to start talking about what content was available online to enhance the curricula, Murray says.

Allow students to try new Web 2.0 tools, but make sure they know the rules. While some of these tools can be used for noneducational purposes, Murray says the day isn’t far off when a student will use her Twitter account to post a question about measuring the volume of a cylinder under a curve, rotating around an axis. The answer could just as easily come from a student in Japan as from someone in the next classroom, he adds.

<p>Wyatt McSpadden</p>