published Friday, December 21st, 2012

Hamilton County schools short on computers

Rick Smith is the superintendent of Hamilton County Schools.
Rick Smith is the superintendent of Hamilton County Schools.
Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Hamilton County schools don't have enough computers for students, according to a report discussed Thursday during a Board of Education session on technology.

No schools meet the ideal 3-to-1 ratio of students to computers, and only a handful can claim a 5-to-1 ratio, said Patty Kinsey, Hamilton County Department of Education business systems analyst.

Most schools have between seven and nine students for each computer, she said. The board is considering putting iPads into the hands of each Hamilton County student.

The move to iPads would facilitate state testing and could improve students' learning experiences, school officials have said.

"This is about more than testing," Superintendent Rick Smith said. "This is integration of technology into schools. Technology does not replace teachers; it supplements them."

But some board members expressed concerns about the push for iPads. Board member Jeffrey Wilson wants to see data that shows the move will be worthwhile before making the change.

"Does it actually make a difference?" he asked. "If I put 20 iPads in a classroom and test scores spike, do I attribute that to the iPads or is there another variable?"

Board member Rhonda Thurman was concerned about the cost of the proposed change -- estimated at $18 million -- and suggested the school district might need to cut jobs to pay for the iPads.

"If computers are taking over jobs in the private sector, then they're going to take over jobs in the government, too," she said.

Smith argued in favor of the change but acknowledged it won't be simple.

"Dumping 42,000 iPads in the school system right now would be a mistake," he said. "You've got to put them in the hands of the teachers and professionally develop your staff first."

The board named Donna Horn, Greg Martin and Jonathan Welch to a technology committee to examine the details of the proposed change.

Smith said purchasing the iPads will require support from local businesses and communities.

"I don't think we can handle this just as a school system," he said. "We have to do this with the community and the state."

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...

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