Schools Tally Big Gains in Web Access
An ambitious five-year push to bring the 1,700 schools in Los Angeles County into the modern world of technology has amassed some impressive numbers: nearly $600 million has been spent on 125,000 computers as well as printers, software, training and Internet connections.
That investment, announced Thursday by education officials, has given a tremendous boost to a county that had been one the nation’s laggards in school technology.
But even as backers of that campaign celebrated its success, they also acknowledged that they no longer expect to see a direct impact on test scores or student achievement. Rather, they hope computer technology will improve teaching, which, in turn, should boost achievement.
Showing a direct connection between technology and student achievement--long an elusive goal of technology advocates nationwide--now seems naive, said James S. Lanich of the Los Angeles County Office of Education and the head of the Technology for Learning campaign.
“It can’t be evaluated based on test scores any more than a book can or chalk can,” he said. “It’s another tool . . . and now it’s important to use that tool to the greatest extent possible to reach the goal, which is results.”
Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who has been one of the biggest backers of the technology campaign, echoed that idea Thursday during an event at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion aimed at showcasing the project’s progress.
“Los Angeles is on the cutting edge of any other area in the country in using technology for learning,” Riordan said. “But we . . . barely scratched the surface of what technology can do to help teach our kids.”
The tremendous growth in technology in the county’s schools reflects the lower costs of cutting-edge machines, growing sophistication on the part of educators, the ubiquitousness of computers outside of schools and a massive infusion of state and federal money for technology.
The state money will continue to flow in the budget that Gov. Gray Davis is expected to sign today. The budget includes $175 million for computers for high schools, with the aim of making it possible for more students to take rigorous Advanced Placement courses via the Internet. It also has a total of $425 million in grants to schools and districts that they could use for computers or other materials.
In addition, by the end of this year, every high school in the state is supposed to have been transformed into a “digital” high school, under a program launched under former Gov. Pete Wilson.
In addition to the public money, the countywide campaign has attracted an estimated $34 million in donations from private companies, including Vons / Pavilions, AT & T, Cisco Systems, Microsoft and the Los Angeles Times.
Five years ago, county schools reported having one computer for every 22 students; today, the schools have one computer for every nine students. With the additional money in the new budget, it’s anticipated that will drop to one computer for every seven students.
In addition, 89% of schools in the county now have access to the Internet via high-speed connections; five years ago, that figure was less than 5%.
All of that technology has led to a wide range of innovations, some of which were on display for the 2,200 attendees at Thursday’s event.
Students at Montebello High School, for example, attend an animation academy that relies on computers to draw characters. Schools in the Lancaster district allow students to borrow computers to use at home. At Chatsworth High School, students designed and created a robot to put balls in a 6-foot-high goal.
Farmdale Elementary School in the El Sereno neighborhood of Los Angeles has made vast strides in technology, even though thieves wiped out a brand new lab only three years ago.
The computers were replaced and now enhance some tried-and-true lessons, such as the standard fourth-grade unit on explorers such as Cortez, Vizcaino and Cabrillo.
Marian Wong said access to the Internet aided her students in their research, because textbooks today tend to cover the exploits of European explorers only superficially.
She said computers still “create excitement to the point that they want to do more. This is how they should be learning.”