Sunday, November 27, 2005

Schools, Laptops, and the ACLU

Well, this is odd. My feet aren't cold.

Why is that odd, you might ask? Because after reading this post, you too will wonder if Hell hasn't frozen over.

You see, this one Los Angeles Times article hits three--count 'em, three--of my favorite topics: free education, computers in school, and the ACLU. And hold on to your hats, cowboys--much like a stopped clock that's right twice a day, the ACLU is on the correct side of this issue.

"Blasphemer! Sell out!" I can hear you screaming, but you'd be wrong. The ACLU has adopted a position here that I have long advocated and have written about on this blog.

So let's summarize this article, shall we? Fullerton School District in Orange County is urging parents to buy each student a $1500 laptop, to be used both at home and at school. Some can't afford to, and some don't want to. Parents who don't want to buy a laptop can transfer their students to other schools that do not participate in this laptop experiment. The ACLU is considering suing the district on the grounds that this program amounts to an illegal fee under the California constitution as well as several state court rulings (Hartzell v. Connell, a state supreme court ruling, being the foundation of the case), and is discriminatory.

Here are some chosen quotes from the LA Times article, to give you a flavor of the issue:

An Orange County school district's efforts to integrate technology into students' lives by urging families to purchase laptop computers is creating a furor among parents who say the pricey obligation is segregating their children into the haves and have-nots. [This segregation is why such "fees" are illegal in California--Darren]
"That's not pocket change for anybody," said Tina Maldonado, a stay-at-home mother with two children attending Rolling Hills Elementary School. "We could buy the computers, but I don't think we should have to. A public school education is supposed to be free."
The American Civil Liberties Union said this month that it's considering filing a lawsuit against the Fullerton School District, arguing that it is violating the state's constitutional guarantee to provide a free education, and is creating a two-tiered learning environment.
School officials say that all Fullerton students receive the free education guaranteed to them by the state constitution and call the laptops an optional "enrichment."
No child is denied a laptop if the family can't afford one, said Supt. Cameron McCune. But McCune has also been confronted by families who can afford a laptop but choose not to buy one. Their children, he said, can transfer to classrooms not in the laptop pilot program — and that may require transferring to a different school.
"If the reason to roll out this … program is that laptops in the hands of every single student will improve teaching and learning, it is silly," said Stanford University education professor emeritus Larry Cuban, author of "Teachers and Machines: Classroom Use of Technology Since 1920." "No body of evidence supports that." [I share Cubans thoughts in this post--Darren]
Sandra Dingess said that she and her husband couldn't afford laptops for their four children who attend Fisler, but were wary of disclosing private financial details in filling out the required paperwork. Instead, they negotiated a deal with the district: Their eighth-grader will stay at Fisler and borrow a laptop while the three others transferred to schools where laptops aren't used.
I hope the school district loses big and has to cough up a lot of money. It's the only way to stop this kind of abuse.

And I hope administrators in my district, and at my school in particular, are paying attention.

Update: Oh, here's why my feet aren't cold. A quick visit to the ACLU's website reveals that they just got lucky in the case above. Look at this one:

ORANGE, CA -- Four civil rights groups today [9/27/2005] filed a motion on behalf of a racially and ethnically diverse group of parents who support the Capistrano Unified School District's (CUSD) ability to consider race to avoid segregated schools when drawing up new boundaries for attendance.

"School districts like CUSD should have the flexibility, when drawing attendance boundaries, to consider race for the purposes of promoting integration and avoiding segregation," said Hector O. Villagra, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California's Orange County office and a participant in today's legal action. [emphasis mine--Darren]

There are plenty of other ones listed.


Anonymous said...

I was glad I was laying in bed...the ACLU has done something right...damned, hell has frozen over...the Saints may be able to turn the season around!

Darren said...

Not so fast, Mike. Look at a case the ACLU is *not* taking:

Jihan Varisco said...

Why is this so terrible? If the district cannot afford to purchase the computers, but they will help kids learn better, it sounds like a good idea. Perhaps not everyone can afford them - but some can, and their kids can get a better education because of it. Should we make everyone, even those who can afford the laptops, suffer? Especially when there is financial aid available - the people who suffer from this are those who choose not to spend some money to improve their own children's education. This is the reason public schools in this country are so terrible - parents don't want to invest anything in them to make them better.

This seems more like a sort of charter school to me, parents who want to can send their kids to learn more with the help of technology, as long as they purchase a laptop. It's better even - they are not paying it as tuition, but get something useful for their money. And if they can't afford it, their kid gets a free laptop!

Darren said...

It's wrong, Jihan, because it's illegal in California.

You operate under the mistaken notion that public schools that cater to rich kids should provide more than public schools that cater to poor kids. This is not so! Let the *parents* of the rich kids pay for computer camp, Sylvan Learning Center, or whatever--let *them* provide the extra that their wealth entitles them to. Having the schools do it sets up a stratified education system, one for the haves and one for the have-nots, and that's something I cannot abide.

And the school in question is not a charter school. And I'm not convinced that computers help anybody learn anything better--except how to operate computers.

Pete Deichmann said...

State schools need to be equal across the board. If a school supported by the government is requiring specific equipment, then all students need equal access and/or provision. This is supposedly what our taxes provide.

On top of that $1500 is pretty high for a laptop unless they need it for gaming or video editing. This smells to me like some corporate scheme to get students to use a specific brand or software package at the parent's expense. $1500 times a school system equals pretty profits for the End of the Year sales goal. And think of all the free advertising!


Darren said...

Wasn't it Apple?

Anonymous said...

I think so