Our Views: For schools, more screens

If you’re starting a business anywhere nowadays, one of the first things you will take care to have is a computer and Internet access. Yet that’s one of the things that has been difficult for schools to achieve, given the costs and scale of providing computer access for hundreds of thousands of children, often housed in older and far-flung buildings in a parish.

Just as one would not operate a shoe store with no technology, one should not expect schools to perform their vastly more complicated tasks without up-to-date technology.

The good news is that education is catching up with the 21st-century reality in Louisiana: Three of four students attend public schools that meet the state’s minimum technology standard, according to the state Department of Education.

If that’s good news, the standard is not that high ­­ ­— ­one ­computer for every seven students.

Education Superintendent John White said 22 districts are still working on meeting the goal, including several in the New Orleans, Lafayette and Baton Rouge regions.

For some districts, finding the money to meet the standard has been tougher. One of the reasons it is more urgent is that more new tests will be taken online as the state seeks to raise academic standards in classrooms.

That doesn’t necessarily mean a PC on every desk, as tablet computers are included in the state standard, but it does mean a level of connectivity that is harder for some schools, particularly in rural areas, to reach.

White said 58 school districts have basic Internet capacity and 66 have enough network infrastructure to handle student tests. Both totals are up from 36 in 2012.

This expansion of technology capacity is one reason, even as competing needs are in the state budget, for local systems to get a “raise” in the state contribution to the Minimum Foundation Program, the basic aid program for local schools. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education appears ready to back an increase of 2.75 percent, but the ultimate decision is that of the Legislature and governor.

The computer needs, while not the only new cost item for schools, is one more reason for an increase.

As White says, the expansion of computer capability is not only about testing but about the availability of the wealth of information available online. And as students are growing up around technology, schools have to keep pace with the ways students are used to accessing books and news.

Online access is not a deadline but a target, and it is moving as the world of information increasingly rotates around a screen and not the pages of books.