It's Christmas this week for eighth graders in Nebraska and New Mexico. According to local news reports, several school districts in both states have issued personal laptops to every eighth grader to use at school and at home this coming school year. I knew these one-laptop-per-student programs were common at the high school level. But now that middle schools are issuing laptops to eighth graders, people are naturally questioning the wisdom of the idea.
On the one hand, school-issued laptops can help make life easier for students who don't have computers at home and maybe even turn more students on to learning. On the other, they can create all sorts of trouble for the student and the school. One of the biggest concerns for schools is preventing students from misusing their laptops. Immature students can use them to bully classmates or access inappropriate websites. The less responsible students can damage or lose the computers. I did a little research and found a high school in Manatee County, Fla., that probably wishes it had given more thought to the ramifications of issuing computers to every student. In 2005, the school filed grand theft charges to recover dozens of missing laptops from students who had moved out of the county. Despite a police investigation, the laptops never turned up. The loss was more than $50,000 to the school.
In Omaha and in Farmington, N.M., eighth graders must have their parents' permission and sign a contract to receive a school laptop. School officials have also taken measures to address safety concerns. The laptops have been outfitted with an antitheft tracking system and filters that limit students' Internet access. If parents don't want their children using laptops after 9 p.m., they can even ask the school to make the computers shut down after that time. There is also a $100 fine if students lose or damage the computers. School officials believe students will take responsibility for laptops just like students in a music program who know how to care for a school-issued violin or saxophone. It's your turn to weigh in. Should schools issue students, even eighth graders, laptop computers to complete assignments at home and at school?