Arlington County schools plan to give every student a tablet in gradual technology rollout

Arlington County public schools are planning to introduce a technology initiative starting next school year that would give every student a tablet.

The rollout, included in Superintendent Patrick K. Murphy’s budget proposal, would begin by giving all second-graders iPads and all sixth-graders Chromebooks in the fall. Two new grades would be added each year.

“The goal is for every child to have a device,” Murphy said at a budget briefing for the news media this week.

Curriculum is being developed to take advantage of the new technology, and teachers will be trained to make the best use of the new tablets, Murphy said.

Tablets, which are more portable and less expensive than laptops, are taking root quickly in classrooms across the country as more districts embrace the notion of one-to-one computer-to-student ratios as important preparation in the digital era.

But it can be costly and problematic for districts to scale up their technology programs, and some are struggling to prevent students from using them for noneducational purposes.

That’s why Arlington wants to introduce its program slowly, Murphy said.

The district spent the past two years upgrading its wireless infrastructure and improving its security system. And it is funding a technology pilot program in every school this year, testing several kinds of tablets for different purposes, such as applications for special education or writing and reading instruction.

Arlington is also having some students take the state’s Standards of Learning tests on tablets, a direction Virginia is moving toward, said Rajesh Adusu­milli, who is Arlington’s assistant superintendent for information services.

“That’s going to change the game in Virginia,” he said.

The budget plan being considered by the school board includes about $200,000 to pay for the devices for 2,150 projected second-graders and 1,650 sixth-graders.

The actual cost for the tablets would exceed that amount, Adusumilli said, but the district is using savings gained by not updating all of its laptops.

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.
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