Montgomery gives go-ahead to major school system technology initiative

Montgomery County’s Board of Education has given the go-ahead for the purchase of 40,000 laptops and tablets for students in Maryland’s largest school system as part of a major technology initiative.

The effort, announced July 10, would bring 100,000 devices into Montgomery’s public schools by 2017-2018. In unanimous votes last week, the school board approved the technology plan and authorized a $15.03 million contract for the first 40,000 devices.

Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said the effort is aimed at improving teaching and learning. “Technology for technology’s sake does not get you very far,” Starr told the board earlier this week. “It has to be deeply tied into what we want kids to know and be able to do as they engage with technology.”

The initial phase of the rollout will include Chromebook laptops for students in grades three, five and six, and high school social studies classes. Students in other grades and other high school subjects will get laptops in following years, with Android-based tablets planned for students in kindergarten through second grade.

Several educators, involved in trial runs with mobile devices, told the board about the advantages of the new technology. Nine schools were involved in a pilot program.

Judy Brubaker, principal of Spark M. Matsunaga Elementary School in Germantown, said the devices had inspired creativity among staff and students and had significantly expanded opportunities to use technology in learning.

Before the school had mobile devices, she said, “you were lucky to get into a computer lab once maybe every two weeks to maybe do an hour’s work. Now if you’re working on a project, you can stay in your classroom, you can work to completion and go back to work on your work some more instead of waiting for that one hour block of time in an old computer lab.”

She said parents have reported that their children are “choosing to do more work, more exploring, more creative work” and that the school has partnered with its school-based day-care provider to allow children access to laptops during day-care hours.

Montgomery officials say they are working with Google and will use Google Apps for Education as a secure, cloud-based platform for students and teachers.

Funding for the technology initiative was included in the school system’s operating and capital improvement budgets, and officials said they expect to receive additional funding from the federal E-Rate program, which provides money to support the use of technology in schools and libraries.

The purchase of the 40,000 devices was facilitated through the Maryland Education Enterprise Consortium and the National Joint Powers Alliance, which help school districts secure lower prices for technology. School officials invited 20 vendors to bid on the project. The board approved awarding a $15.03 million contract to CDW Government.

Donna St. George writes about education, with an emphasis on Montgomery County schools.
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