Public schools show mixed record on technology gains

John White
John White

Louisiana has made huge strides in improving public-school technology but is a long way from providing all students with individualized computers, state Superintendent of Education John White said Wednesday.

The state’s minimum requirement is one computer for every seven students.

Asked if that is a reasonable goal White told a House-Senate committee, “I don’t think any of us would accept anything other than a one to one ratio.

“At the same time we are a long way from that,” he said.

White made his comments during a technology briefing for the House and Senate education committees.

The issue has gotten attention in recent months amid preparations for online tests that will accompany national academic standards, which go under the name of Common Core.

The new standards take full effect for the 2014-15 school year.

Some superintendents have complained about problems financing computer buys, especially after five years of general freezes in state aid for public schools.

White told lawmakers that the need for technology improvements goes well beyond that, with high schools offering online tests for several years and elementary and middle schools on the same path.

“But technology is not about tests,” he said. “It is about day-to-day life.”

Three school districts offer one computer, tablet or other device for every student: the St. Helena, St. James and Cameron school systems.

Nine feature three to one ratios, including the East Baton Rouge Parish School System.

White said that, in July, 2012, only two school systems met the state’s seven to one ratio of students to computers or tablets, the Ascension and St. James school systems.

He said 47 of 69 do so now.

White also said that, in the past two years, schools have upgraded 41,000 computers and purchased 48,000 others at a cost of $24 million, which he said was $14 million cheaper by using a state contract.

The price tag for all school districts to meet minimum technology requirements is $6 million or $7 million, he said, and about $24 million to move all districts to a higher level, excluding annual maintenance.

However, the superintendent said an even bigger hurdle is getting schools access to network bandwidth, which is the infrastructure needed for tests and teaching.

White said 58 school districts meet current bandwidth requirements, up from 36 in 2012.

“So we are making progress,” he said, but added not as fast as the growth of computers.