Two years ago, when times were flush for both school districts and the companies that sell them technology products, the big question was: When will all the technological wonders being created actually show up in classrooms?
At the time, PowerSchool had launched its student information service (but districts were only implementing its basic features), Palm was starting to tout the educational value of its handhelds (but educators were wary), and the idea of laptop labs were starting to take hold in districts (but no one was advocating laptops for all students).
The repeated complaint about K12 education was the same one we still hear today: It moves so slowly, it'll never change.
But lo and behold, here we are two years later and talk has turned into action.
PowerSchool (now owned by Apple) and its many competitors aren't wasting time now talking about what features their products offer, but how their services are changing the lives of educators, parents and students. As this month's cover story proves ("The Spy Who Loved Me," p. 22), these systems can help parents know both what their child eats for lunch and when their latest homework project is due. And while parents can use this information to nag, some are using it to work with their children and create a sensible plan that allows the students to understand time management and responsibility.
In the case of Palms and other PDAs, the market has recognized, and met, some of the specific educational needs that exist. Today, instead of teachers with PDAs being more organized, these computers are actually helping them do their jobs. Our story ("On the Go," p. 28) highlights new programs for educators-such as portable student information systems and the ability to conduct assessments while walking in the classroom-and how they are being used today.
The idea of laptops in schools has also taken hold. The entire state of Maine and the Henrico (Va.) Public Schools are two of the highest profile spots where leaders are creating programs to give laptops to each child in certain grades. The debate about these programs continues (see the columns "Laptops Keep Falling on My Head," by Gary Stager, p. 18, and "Lessons Learned," by Henrico Superintendent Mark Edwards, p. 19). But if time has taught us anything, we know that these programs, and the uproar about them, will seem almost quaint when viewed in the rearview mirror a couple of years from now.
Other pieces in this Special Technology Issue point out the progress of the last few years, from the continued impact of the E-rate ("The E-rate at Five, p. 34), to the lessons learned from Australian educator David Loader ("I'm Outta Here," p. 43) possibly the first administrator to recommend laptops for each student.
So whether your district is implementing any of these innovations or just wishing for them, you will have to admit that the idea of getting them doesn't seem as crazy as it did two years ago. And that, in itself, is progress.