North Carolina School District Has Success With MacBook Air Initiative

February 15, 2012

News Bits

The Mooresville, North Carolina district is one of a handful in the country to issue laptops, the MacBook Air in this case, to each student. Mooresville is attempting to turn the public school education on its head, using technology to change the culture of instruction. The district was profiled in the New York Times on Monday.

The Times says the district has “quietly emerged as the de facto national model of the digital school.”

[Superintendent of schools Mark] Edwards spoke on a White House panel in September, and federal Department of Education officials often cite Mooresville as a symbolic success. Overwhelmed by requests to view the programs in action, the district now herds visitors into groups of 60 for monthly demonstrations; the waiting list stretches to April. What they are looking for is an explanation for the steady gains Mooresville has made since issuing laptops three years ago to the 4,400 4th through 12th graders in five schools (three K-3 schools are not part of the program).

The district’s graduation rate was 91 percent in 2011, up from 80 percent in 2008. On state tests in reading, math and science, an average of 88 percent of students across grades and subjects met proficiency standards, compared with 73 percent three years ago. Attendance is up, dropouts are down. Mooresville ranks 100th out of 115 districts in North Carolina in terms of dollars spent per student — $7,415.89 a year — but it is now third in test scores and second in graduation rates.


Each MacBook Air notebooks is leased from Apple for $215 per year, including warranty. The total cost for the computers is around $1 million per year, plus an additional $100K for software. Families pay a $50 fee

The Mooresville Graded School District paid for the initiative by eliminating 65 jobs, including 37 teaching positions, and accepting larger class sizes. At the same time, schools could get rid of computer labs and antiquated teaching materials like hanging wall maps.

Steve Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson wrote about Jobs’ feelings towards American public education. Jobs felt the system was “hopelessly antiquated and crippled by union work rules.” Particularly galling to Jobs was that classrooms were led by teachers standing at a blackboard, using textbooks. He felt that “all books, learning materials, and assessments should be digital and interactive.” Feedback should be tailored to each student and provided in real time.

Instead of simply throwing technology dollars at the problem, hoping it can fix itself, Mooresville is using technology as a tool to help students learn.

Mooresville frequently tests students in various subjects to inform teachers where each needs help. Every quarter, department heads and principals present summary data to Mr. Edwards, who uses it to assess where teachers need improvement. Special emphasis goes to identifying students who are only a few correct answers away from passing state proficiency standards. They are then told how close they are and, Mr. Edwards said, “You can, you can, you can.”

Apple made its biggest stride yet into the digital classroom at an education-focused event last month. At that event, Apple launched a new digital textbook initiative for the iPad, plus easy-to-use authoring tools to help educators collaborate and share knowledge across school districts and disciplines.

Jobs’ vision for the digital school may be turning to reality in Mooresville, North Carolina.

(Image via Jeremy M. Lange/New York Times)

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