An initiative to standardize widespread iPad use across District 181 was put on hold last week.
The District 181 Board of Education was unanimous in choosing at its June 25 meeting not to act on the recommendation of the @d181 Initiative committee to see that over the next three years all third- through eighth-grade students have access to their own district-supplied iPad. Board members instead asked the administration to come back later this summer with a scaled back 2012-13 plan to continue researching the iPad’s educational benefits.
After a pilot program in 2011-12 established a one-to-one student-to-iPad ratio for fifth-graders at and schools, the @d181 committee’s recommendation included a one-to-one ratio for all the district’s third- and sixth-graders in 2012-13, before expanding it to fourth- and seventh-graders in 2013-14, and fifth- and eighth-graders in 2014-15.
Along with the device rollout would be professional development that would aim to develop curriculum that can be used with the iPad and teachers’ ability to use the tablets themselves.
The board would have had the opportunity to opt out of the program after the first year if it so desired.
Several board members cited the cost attached to the committee’s recommendation as a reason for not supporting it. The district would spend $659,289 on technology next school year if the proposed program were in place, nearly $270,000 more than it would if it keeps the status quo.
Board member Marty Turek said he believes tablets will eventually be commonplace in District 181 education.
“I just don’t think at this time, in this economy, in this environment, that we can start writing checks in the high six and seven figures,” Turek said.
The cost difference between the @d181 plan and the status quo would be $281,000 in 2013-14 before gradually falling to less than $150,000 by 2016-17, as the supply of devices to entire buildings shrinks along with the district's textbook costs.
Teachers who took part in the pilot program at The Lane and Elm said students used iPads for a range of activities, from taking notes in science class, to tracking sit-ups, to listening to composers’ music while reading about them.
Elm School fifth-grade teacher Matt Haeger said having one-to-one ratios does not mean iPads are going to be used for every lesson.
"What it does mean is that students will have a tool that enhances their ability to be creative, critical and innovative thinkers," he said, "which will prepare them for the skills necessary for the 21st century."
The proposed plan was “too much, too soon,” according to board member Brendan Heneghan. He said he thinks the iPad could help the district’s small percentage of low-achieving students, but he is not yet convinced its use is in the best interest of the entire student population.
“I don’t see a wholesale adoption of this without … the data that [says] this is going to work,” said Heneghan, who also wants more information on staff training and how teachers will re-think their methods with the tablet’s presence.
Board President Michael Nelson said the high price tag does indeed demand more evidence of how iPads will improve learning.
“I think if we could show the community a fairly direct line between the expenditure and student growth rates, learning growth rates, I think we may have a shot at selling this,” Nelson said.
Technology does not directly lead to student growth, though, according to District 181’s assistant superintendent for learning.
“That’s not what it’s about,” Dr. Janet Stutz said. “What it’s about is the teaching and learning and instruction that teachers have at their fingertips … to provide immediate feedback to their students, something that right now is delayed.”
Board member Sarah Lewensohn voted in favor of not taking action, but said that the board agreed that curriculum development was a priority after it held the line on teacher wages during negotiations with the Hinsdale-Clarendon Hills Teachers Association in 2011, and the @d181 recommendation would be a step forward.
“We need to do something. We’ll be moving backwards if we don’t,” Lewensohn said.
Superintendent Dr. Renée Schuster said the administration will bring to the board a new 2012-13 plan for continued iPad research at its August meeting. Stutz said there is not a need to have next year’s plan ready to go before the school year begins.