Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012 | 5 p.m.
Jury out on last year’s iPad pilot program
Last year, the nation’s fifth-largest school district piloted a $790,050 iPad program at four schools: Silverado High School, Silvestri and Leavitt middle schools and the Academy for Individualized Study, a school for nontraditional students.
About 1,150 students were given iPads with the Fuse Algebra 1 application, which was developed by textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
The digital math textbooks engaged students with video tutorials and interactive activities and quizzes.
The Clark County School District and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt are still crunching the data to see if last year’s iPad program helped deliver higher test scores. A similar pilot program in Riverside, Calif., saw a 30 percentage point increase in test scores.
Education observers say it’s still too early to tell if iPad programs are cost-effective alternatives to traditional paper textbooks. It is also uncertain how effective iPad programs are in raising student achievement.
The Clark County School District launched its largest iPad program to date Thursday, putting nearly 6,500 tablet computers into the hands of students and staff at five low-income middle schools.
The Engage, Empower, Explore Project — otherwise known as E3 — is the School District’s latest and most ambitious foray into digital education.
Officials said the nearly $2.5 million iPad program would allow the district to provide a tablet computer to every student, teacher and administrator at Bridger, Garside, Martin, Sedway and Von Tobel middle schools.
“By putting an iPad in the hands of our young people, we bring the world to their fingertips every day,” Superintendent Dwight Jones said in a statement.
“New technology helps us better engage students and provide them with different ways of learning. This initiative is an important step in raising the bar and increasing student achievement,” he said.
All five middle schools participating in the program are classified as Title I schools, which means they receive federal funding to assist students from low-income families. The iPads, which cost about $2,463,500, were purchased with these federal dollars. (Title I funds cannot be used for teacher salaries or capital improvements.)
The five schools were chosen from among 16 eligible schools based on their ability to successfully implement the program. Unlike previous iPad programs in the district, the E3 initiative focuses on leveling the technological playing field for disadvantaged students.
More than 70 percent of students at each E3 school participate in the federal free and reduced-price lunch program. None of the schools are rated above three stars on the district’s five-star school ranking system.
District officials said they hope the iPad program helps raise student achievement among low-performing and low-income schools.
Students from low-income families are less likely to have a computer or Internet access at home, said Jhone Ebert, the School District’s chief technology officer. That often means learning stops when students get home, she said.
To help bridge the technology gap, CenturyLink has partnered with the School District to provide families at the five schools with less costly Internet access. The telecommunications company is offering Internet service to students and families for $9.95 a month.
With an iPad from the district and discounted home Internet access from CenturyLink, the students will be able to learn on their own time, Ebert said. Furthermore, with crowded classrooms, iPads allow for individualized education, letting students learn at their own pace, she said.
The iPads will also let students access and complete their homework, conduct research and collaborate with classmates on projects, officials said. The iPads will be used in most classes, from English to math to physical education, where students will log their fitness progress.
“These tools that are replacing pen and paper will increase student, parent and community engagement in education,” Ebert said in a statement. “We are in the next generation of education.”
The iPads will be preloaded with organizational applications, such as a note-taking app called Notability and a student planner app called MyHomework. The iPads will also come with text-editing, spreadsheet and presentation software, photo and video-editing capabilities, and a graphing calculator.
District officials said they encourage parents to use the iPads to teach their children. Parents will be able to track their child’s academic progress through the ParentLink app and can use free online resources, such as the Khan Academy educational video website, to help their children with homework.
There will be several iPad orientation sessions throughout the year to help parents and students take advantage of the tablets, Ebert said. Parents will also learn how best to monitor their children’s use of the iPads at home.
Although district networks will filter out inappropriate content on campus, parents are urged to keep tabs on their child’s iPad use. Before receiving an iPad, students and parents will be required to watch a short film on Internet safety and must sign a two-page form acknowledging district guidelines and expectations for appropriate Internet and iPad use.
Few iPads were broken, lost or stolen in previous iPad pilot programs, Ebert said. However, the district is taking care to deter thieves and protect students from theft, she said.
Each of the $399 iPad2 tablets have a unique serial number and the “Find My iPad” recovery program installed.
If a district iPad is stolen and taken to a pawn shop, it will be confiscated and returned to the district. If a stolen iPad is turned on, the “Find My iPad” application will send the coordinates of the iPad to the School District police department, which will dispatch officers to the location.
“We’ve taken several safety precautions to make Clark County School District iPads something that no one will want to take,” district spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson said. “The bottom line is this: These are for our students and their education. If you steal a CCSD iPad, you will go to jail.”