Ten Years of Laptops in Maine Schools

[In 2001] Maine legislators approved — after months of doubt and debate — Gov. Angus King’s proposal to give every seventh-grader in Maine a laptop….

Ten years later, each seventh- and eighth-grader in Maine public schools and every grades 7-12 teacher has a laptop paid for by state taxpayers, at an annual cost of $11 million. And, through the Maine Department of Education, 60 percent of Maine high-schoolers have laptops, paid for by local property taxpayers. That’s a total of 72,000 laptops, according to the DOE….

Teachers, students and administrators interviewed for this report said laptops are giving several kinds of return on that money.

Laptops make learning and schoolwork more interesting, students and teachers said. “When kids are engaged, you can teach them anything,” said Jeff Mao, who oversees instructional technology for the Maine Department of Education….

In the years since thousands of laptops have been given to students and teachers, they’ve become such a part of classrooms that teachers often underestimate how much they use them, Mao said.

“They’ll say, ‘I don’t do too much with laptops,'” he said. “But you watch them in class, and you see teachers with classroom Web page where all kinds of information — homework, class work, recommended sites — is available. Teachers e-mail students and parents. They give out assignments on laptops. It’s become so common it all seems mundane now.”…

Maine is recognized as a “world leader” for technology in classrooms, King said. Delegations from Sweden, Denmark, Canada, Israel, Peru, Australia and Ireland, among others, have visited Maine to learn about laptops. While some cities and counties have given out laptops, Maine is the only state with a statewide program….

One of the most important reasons for the laptop program was establishing equity. That’s been achieved, King said.

“How many Maine families could have afforded to buy laptops for eighth-graders? Yet every single kid has one,” King said. “We put this tool in the hands of thousands of kids who otherwise wouldn’t have it.”

“I’m as enthusiastic as ever,” King said. “We did the right thing at the right time. It’s been tremendously successful.” Maine has a digitally literate group of students, he said….

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