Give Bend-La Pine Schools credit for listening. After receiving criticism for the size and speed of their digital conversion vision, administrators have made some meaningful revisions.
When the district presented its vision to the school board on April 23, it included putting a digital device, likely an iPad, into the hands of every student in grades 3-12 by fall 2014. The project would be revenue neutral by shifting resources that would have gone into textbooks and other instructional materials. And it would launch with a 3,500-student pilot project just months away in fall 2013.
We weren’t the only ones who expressed alarm at the magnitude and pace of the change, especially the apparent lack of time and method to evaluate the pilot before plunging forward. Not all of the critics who spoke at subsequent school board meetings were well-informed on the plan, but their concerns emphasized the need to fully inform and engage the public in such a significant change.
This week, administrators told the board they plan to scale the pilot project back to 2,400 students. That’s the number of digital devices the district will need anyway in the next several years for new achievement tests. So even if the district decides not to pursue the full digital conversion, the devices purchased for the pilot won’t go to waste.
The district also chose an evaluation system developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to help judge the success of the pilot, helping to assure its lessons get a serious examination before further commitments are made.
A selection committee was formed, including three school board members and district staff, to select which schools will participate in the pilot. Schools have been invited to apply for the pilot project, with applications due Friday and selections expected to be made by July 1. The pilot will use iPads, although future expansion could possibly use other devices.
Innumerable questions remain about the wisdom of such a massive conversion, but we’re reassured that a few safeguards have been added to temper enthusiasm with experience and careful judgment.