S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Oct. 16, 2005
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/05.1016.computer.htm

COMMENTARY
A way to revolutionize education in South Carolina
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

OCT. 16, 2005 - - Imagine a tool that could radically change the way students learn and open floodgates of opportunity, particularly for students in rural areas who don't have access to the variety of coursework available in richer school districts.

This tool is already readily available today. It's the laptop computer.

Imagine what would happen if every South Carolina middle school student had one to use for a year or two.

That isn't as far-fetched as it may first sound. In 2002, Maine Gov. Angus King spearheaded a pioneering one-to-one learning program that provided a notebook computer to every seventh- and eighth-grade student in his state. For $37 million, the state bought 34,000 laptops.

In the years since, the program has been an unqualified success, according to a variety of reports. Students say they're more organized, efficient and interested in their work. Teachers say students are more engaged in learning and are developing more sophisticated thinking skills. They also say because laptops allow students to explore the Internet, they're actually able to have more individual contact with student. Administrators say they see less absenteeism and fewer disciplinary problems.


The $100 laptop

Having a laptop in South Carolina classrooms isn't out of the realm of possibility. Based on Maine's cost of $1,088 per laptop, South Carolina would have to spend about $61 million to get a laptop for the state's 56,160 seventh-graders. To do it across two grade levels for every student in the state's public schools would cost about $120 million. (Good news: Researchers at MIT say the cost of a bare-bones laptop soon could drop to $100, which would mean the cost to outfit every seventh- and eighth-grader in S.C. would drop to $12 million.)

If either figure is too big of a chunk, the state could conduct a pilot program targeted to schools in the 13 districts that are underperforming or below average. These districts provide schooling for 2,388 seventh-graders in 20 different middle schools. Districts include Allendale, Bamberg 2, Clarendon 1, Fairfield, Florence 4, Hampton 2, Jasper, Lee, Lexington 4, McCormick, Marion 7, Marlboro and Orangeburg 3.

For students in these districts to get laptops in the seventh grade, the state would have to spend about $2.6 million, based on $1,088 per laptop.
But imagine how it would change education in those areas - - places where students don't have good access to advanced courses or training available in wealthier school districts.

In short, laptops would revolutionize rural education.

In light of a pending school funding lawsuit brought by several of the school districts in the above list, buying a laptop for kids to use for a year or two in poor districts is a relatively inexpensive way to open up new worlds of possibilities - - and to equalize educational experiences.

But just buying a laptop for seventh-graders in poor districts wouldn't be all that would be required. Teachers would have to be trained on how to integrate laptops into classrooms and administrators would have to figure out new ways of doing business.

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So let's say that it might cost $4 million to buy the laptops and provide the training to help teachers explore new ways to teach in rural, below-average districts. That seems like a small price for the state to pay to fundamentally change the lives of kids who don't have the same chance as others.

As one wag observed, classrooms don't have a "classroom pencil" for kids to share these days. So a laptop per kid makes sense because it's an electronic tool they can use at any time.

State lawmakers should seriously consider investing in a laptop program as a way to improve education for all South Carolina students. But if the price tag is too much at the beginning - - even though common sense and lots of research say the program will work - - then they should at least try it for students in neglected districts.

Former Maine Gov. Angus King, who started his state's pioneering laptop program, says it's easy to tell it works.

"You cannot grasp the power of this idea until you go into one of these seventh-grade classrooms," he said in a recent article published by Edutopia.org. "You can almost hear 'Eureka!'"

Wouldn't it be great if South Carolina had a governor who could say that?

RECENT COMMENTARY

McLEMORE'S WORLD
10/15: Bible study

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:


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FEEDBACK
10/10: Rant on taxes

To the editor:

After reading your article, "Getting rid of property tax would be dumb", caused me to wonder if you were the posterboy for the democratic party. You know the 'old tax and spent folk. Most of us professional businessmen, when oprating our respective companies, did a thing called a budget. Then it was managements responsibility to not just follow the budget but be under budget. The people in Columbia can and should do the same. I am wondering if there are more used cars sold in this state than new...I look around throught my travels and I would bet on it. Boats, the same observation! Here is another thing. With the military bases in SC, it is easy for non military to drive in this state for years without getting SC tags. I called the Governor prior to his election and ask if he planned to get rid of the property tax and he said he would. Broken promises doesnot get you reelected. It has been proven by Presidents Reagan and Bush that if you let the people keep more of their money they have earned...individuals and company heads alike, spend the money therefore goverment gets more in return...and life is good. Maybe if the people in gov. do not receive so many perks then they may be real and make an effort to do what the forefathers did and that was to govern for the people and not get elected to get more for themselves. Have a nice day.

-- Terry E. Thomas, Lady's Island, S.C.

Recent feedback:

KEEPING TRACK
Ahead on property taxes, leadership

This section tracks past forecasts by Statehouse Report with other media reports:

In Statehouse Report:

10/2: Getting rid of property taxes would be dumb: "Instead of listening to the hype, South Carolinians really need to think about what they're asking for if they want reduced property taxes because they might get something worse than they bargained for. Not only should they watch out for the spin, but they should look out for misinformation, which seems to have surfaced much more than the truth so far."

In the Myrtle Beach Sun News:

10/13: Equal taxation is state law: "It's important that, in thinking about this thorny issue, property owners separate the lack of discipline that some S.C. local governments show in controlling tax rates from the need for uniformity and equality in taxation. If they can do that, perhaps they will focus their ire on elected officials who too readily raise tax rates than on an S.C. constitutional principle aimed at ensuring that all who own property are taxed fairly."

In Statehouse Report:

9/18: Governor needs to be a leader: "Instead of listening to the hype, South Carolinians really need to think about what they're asking for if they want reduced property taxes because they might get something worse than they bargained for. Not only should they watch out for the spin, but they should look out for misinformation, which seems to have surfaced much more than the truth so far."

In The State:

10/11: Sanford has dismal leadership record: "There clearly is more than enough blame to go around for the fact that little has been done since Mr. Sanford took office to right the course our state has been on for years. But as governor, Mr. Sanford is the one with the greatest responsibility to articulate a clear vision for the state, as well as to work to develop the strategy and forge the relationships to make progress toward that vision. And so far, he has failed. Worse, we see little hope this will change, either in the coming legislative session or in the next five years."


SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political events from the past week:

Thumbs up


Demolition of a span of the old Pearman bridge in Charleston

McConnell, Leatherman. Hats off for the chairmen of the special Senate tax study committee for deep-sizing a measure that would raise sales tax to kill property taxes. Senate Bill 880, they said, was a little too much for now. Lawmakers probably will do something with sales taxes to relieve the burden of property taxes, but this huge bill would have caused huge long-term problems.

Bridge. It's good workers are moving forward at breaking apart the old Cooper River bridges to make fish habitat. It's ashamed the explosions didn't work as predicted.

Thumbs down

Flat employment. The state has more than 1.8 million people employed, but jobs are down again -- this time 0.1 percent over the previous month.

Harvin. A silent moment for the loss of long-time State Rep. Alex Harven, D-Clarendon.

Gingrich. Thumbs down to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for endorsing Gov. Mark Sanford's terrible Medicare privatization effort.



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