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Public School's Computer Labs Underfunded

Discussion in 'Electronic Basics' started by Baphomet, Nov 8, 2003.

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  1. Baphomet

    Baphomet Guest

    Footing the Bill for the Computer Lab

    November 6, 2003

    New York Times

    FOR Nancy Couto, the director of technology for the Armada
    school district in suburban Detroit, walking into a
    computer lab at the high school is like stepping back in
    time. There, beat-up machines still run Windows 95 and
    barely chug along on 120-megahertz processors and 16
    megabytes of memory, a tiny fraction of what even the most
    basic new desktop comes with these days.

    It has been seven years since voters approved a bond issue
    that bought many of the 750 computers that sit in nine labs
    across the district today. With a bare-bones budget and
    school officials unwilling to ask voters to borrow money
    again, Ms. Couto has had to scavenge parts from dead
    computers to repair problems with the machines that are
    still hanging on.

    "They're so old we can't even buy parts for them anymore,"
    Ms. Couto said. "I tell teachers not to shut them down
    after class. It takes five minutes just to boot them back
    up, and when you're in class, you just don't have that kind
    of time."

    With states facing big budget deficits because of a long
    period of weak economic growth, public schools have been
    forced to tighten their spending, often choosing to pay
    only for basic services and not for what they see as luxury
    items, like new computers. One result is outmoded equipment
    that makes it hard for teachers to use technology in their
    lessons or to engage students who have become accustomed to
    faster computers at home.

    Rather than wait for the budget situation to improve, some
    cash-strapped schools are asking for money from parents'
    groups - including foundations established expressly to
    help pay for technology purchases - to buy computers. Other
    districts are looking for donations of used equipment from
    local businesses and colleges.

    "The bar is higher for technology in the schools," said
    Peter Grunwald, president of Grunwald Associates, a
    consulting firm in Burlingame, Calif., that focuses on
    school technology. "They are operating in an environment of
    expectations that is formed by students who get to play
    with everything in their own homes."

    The budget cuts, which have also reduced dollars for
    support staffs and teacher training, could not have come at
    a worse time, Mr. Grunwald said. "School districts were
    finally turning their attention to how to use all this
    stuff in the classroom."

    Outdated computers are usually acceptable for the lower
    grades, where they can be used for basic tasks like word
    processing. But teaching advanced applications to older
    students with aging machines is nearly impossible. Thomas
    Watchorn, a computer teacher at the middle school in Ms.
    Couto's district, said he had given up on the desktop
    computers in his lab for video editing or Web design. On
    most days, he is happy if the machines simply function. "I
    never have 30 computers that exactly work the way they are
    supposed to," he said. Screen colors change unexpectedly,
    programs shut down without warning, and machines crash.

    One of the labs in Armada Middle School is so riddled with
    problems that the computers there are not used at all. Mr.
    Watchorn said he wondered how long it would be before his
    lab suffered the same fate. "If we're lucky, maybe two more
    years," he said.

    Given the conditions under which school computers operate -
    multiple users throughout the day, some of them less than
    gentle - the machines never last as long as the average
    home or office desktop. Ideally, schools need to replace
    equipment at least every four to five years, school
    technology directors agree. But that schedule is usually
    only met with an infusion of cash, typically through a bond
    issue for technology or for a new school.

    Nearly half the 1,100 computers in the public schools in
    Fitchburg, Mass., are less than four years old, thanks to
    money furnished to build a new high school that opened
    there in 2000. But the warranty on the high school
    computers expires in June, and "then we'll be in real
    trouble," said Art Newcombe, the district's director of

    Elsewhere in the district, most of the computers are five
    to seven years old. Mr. Newcombe's budget has been cut by
    $200,000, or 84 percent, over the last three years, and
    many of the technology grants he has received are for
    teacher training, not new equipment.

    Like technology directors in other districts, Mr. Newcombe
    is trying to get more out of what he has by relying on
    networked computers. Instead of buying new desktops, some
    schools have opted to buy servers, which cost about $5,000
    each and provide the needed disk space for 40 or 50
    outdated computers, as well as a connection to a common
    printer. "Servers expand the life of our computers and give
    us more versatility," Mr. Newcombe said.

    Even so, with state lawmakers looking to pinch every dollar
    possible, putting budgets in constant flux, some school
    officials are reluctant to begin the often long process of
    purchasing new equipment. In New York last year, for
    instance, Gov. George E. Pataki proposed eliminating a
    state program that provided as much as 50 percent of the
    cost of new computers. The legislature later preserved the
    program, but not before some school districts decided to
    delay their technology plans.

    "A lot of schools were in no man's land," said Pete Reilly,
    the director of the Lower Hudson Regional Information
    Center, a consortium of 62 school districts north of New
    York City. "Without that state money, there was no way they
    could have afforded to buy that equipment."

    Faced with that uncertainty, many schools have decided to
    bypass state and local lawmakers altogether to subsidize
    their technology purchases. Some have turned to their own
    private nonprofit foundations, a new kind of parent
    organization that has gained in popularity in recent years,
    particularly in wealthier districts. The foundations help
    pay for items like playground equipment, music and art
    classes and technology.

    The Mount Laurel Public Education Fund in New Jersey, for
    example, donates $30,000 annually to the Mount Laurel
    school district, most of which is used for technology.
    "Sure the schools could survive without our money, but you
    could always have better equipment and better education,"
    said Kevin Scarborough, the president of the foundation. It
    was created in 1994 and raises most of its funds from an
    annual golf tournament. Now its leaders are considering art
    and sports-memorabilia auctions to increase their donation
    to the schools. "Quite frankly, the better the education
    system, the better the town, the better the property
    values," Mr. Scarborough said.

    Although the money from the parents foundation is a drop in
    the district's $900,000 annual technology budget, "it's
    something I count on every year," said Ken Ruhland, an
    assistant superintendent in Mount Laurel. Because the
    donation, which this year paid for interactive whiteboards,
    comes in the fall, well after the district has planned its
    other computer purchases, it allows officials to buy "the
    latest in technology," Mr. Ruhland said.

    In other districts, officials are looking for donations of
    used equipment. When elected officials in the town of
    Mansfield, Mass., opposed a $200,000 request for new
    computers last year, Lincoln Lynch, the assistant
    superintendent of the 5,000-student school district, sent
    300 letters to colleges and businesses in the region asking
    for their old machines. He has since received 346
    computers. Students and local retirees refurbished about
    250 of them and placed them in classrooms and labs, with
    the rest used for spare parts.

    To control the cost of overhauling the used computers - a
    factor that leads many schools to refuse to accept
    second-hand computers - Mr. Lynch limits his donations to
    Pentium II computers in groups of 12 or more. "We need
    computers, businesses and colleges need to get rid of
    hazardous waste, and colleges need students to be trained
    using the latest technology," said Mr. Lynch, who estimates
    that he has saved at least $150,000 by using donated
    machines. "To me, it's a win-win situation."

    But not everyone sees it that way. Howie Schaffer of the
    Public Education Network, which coordinates community
    groups involved with schools, said that gifts from
    foundations and donations of used equipment allow schools
    to shirk their duties. "The fact of the matter is they are
    taking away a very critical district responsibility, and it
    will be almost impossible to give it back to them," Mr.
    Schaffer said.
  2. Bob Masta

    Bob Masta Guest

    <content snipped>

    This is an issue I have a hard time with. On the one
    hand, do we really want to devote precious school time to teaching
    video editing and the latest cool apps? It seems today's
    kids have trouble just learning Readin, Ritin, and Rithmetic.
    Maybe they could learn Photoshop in college, say?

    On the other hand, there are certainly plenty who will
    never go on to college. You could make a good case
    that they should learn about Email, Web access, and
    word processing just to compete for the entry-level
    jobs. And for those who _do_ go on to college, they
    will need these skill to survive there.

    I guess this is the same old lament I've had about
    engineering schools: Every year there is more new
    technology that students are expected to know about
    when they graduate. Since a degree program is of
    finite duration, something else has to go. I'm an
    old-timer; when I was starting out, they had just
    dropped vacuum tubes from the EE curriculum in
    order to devote more time to solid state. From what
    I've heard these days, graduates can't bias a
    transistor amplifier. The argument could be that
    "They don't need to. Nobody uses that old stuff
    any more; they just use a chip as a functional block".
    But it still pains me to see this knowledge slip away.

    So, are we going to extend this to grade school math
    and reading? "They just use calculators/computers
    for the math. And who reads any more, anyway?
    Hey, you can get all you need to know from the TV!"

    And don't get me started on science and government
    classes... it's clear they dropped those a long time ago!

    Bob Masta

    D A Q A R T A
    Data AcQuisition And Real-Time Analysis
  3. <snip>

    I could not agree more. Cliff Stoll has already gone into great
    lengths about this issue in his books 'Silicon Snake Oil' and 'The High-
    Tech Heretic.'

    With the possible exception of some word processing, save the
    computers for college. It's far more critical, I think, that grade
    schools teach reading, writing, math, critical thinking, logic, etc.

    Computers are tools, not crutches. Let's keep it that way.

    Dr. Anton Squeegee, Director, Dutch Surrealist Plumbing Institute
    (Known to some as Bruce Lane, KC7GR)
    kyrrin a/t bluefeathertech d-o=t c&o&m
    Motorola Radio Programming & Service Available -
    "Quando Omni Flunkus Moritati" (Red Green)
  4. Jim Thompson

    Jim Thompson Guest

    On Sat, 8 Nov 2003 09:24:11 -0800, Dr. Anton Squeegee

    Marvelously put!

    ...Jim Thompson
  5. An issue not only to the US of A. Here in Berlin/Germany the situation is
    pretty much the same, but it extends also to universities. I'm studying
    computer science at the TU (Technical University) Berlin and having to work
    with outdated Sun Microsystems workstations best compared to 16MB 486s has
    been so far one of my everyday experiences. There are some much faster
    terminal servers, but since they are too few for the number of students,
    there are times when one has to wait even to get access to one of the
    slowest workstations where a basic ASCII Text Editor can take up to half a
    minute to start up while working with graphics (except viewing very small
    ones in a read-only preview) is near to impossible and PDF documents take
    approx. 5 seconds to open each page. Disk space quotas of 60MB per user
    including settings and system data (approx. 40 'useful' MB) is also an
    issue. For those who remember my post about "reverse engeneering a PIR
    motion detector" putting half-transparent picture of the the PCB traces over
    the component side picture: This simple task (done at home) would turn out
    exceptionally difficult at the 'technical' university because most of the
    systems there do not have the appropriate software, and on those that do, it
    would be a real pain. The government keeps reducing its monetary help
    telling us that the university were much too over-equipped for years now.
    There are increasing student protests (have a look at indymedia) and they
    are certainly fully justified. And what concerns high schools, I still
    remember a lesson with a South Asia map held together with duct tape showing
    boundaries of states that no longer exist since the end of colonnialism and
    the teacher explaining he had no newer one to offer because the only other
    appropriate one was in use somewhere else. Nothing to do with computers, but
    a nice example.

    Seeing the examples above, one may think that German schools have pretty
    much nothing. This is NOT true, please do not get a false idea. Basically
    they have what is most needed, but from time to time we get to see a rather
    incredible incident like the one above. These ones are not the average, but
    tend to happen more often as time passes.

    I agree with Dr. Anton Squeegee that the primary purpose of a school is to
    teach the more basic skills, but I think that computers are a very good aid
    in the 12th and 13th grade (of which the last one will soon no longer exist
    since the high schools here will change the curriculum to squeeze everything
    into a total of 12 years) when it comes to analysis and analytical geometry.
    One really understands a sophisticated function better after seeing its
    behaviour in a computer-generated graphic.

    After all, it seems that many governments no longer care about proper
    education, at least the USA is not the only country that suffers this fate.

    Sincerely yours,

  6. I agree. But it seems that the tools have to be faster, with more
    memory, etc., just to run the current software, not to mention the
    upcoming newer versions.

    One of our techs ordered a batch of new PCs for his CAD/CAM lab, with
    21" CRTs. The hotshots in Accounting, in order to save money,
    decided that the order didn't need to spend so much money on that
    large a CRT, so they substituted a smaller size.

    The order came in, and it was found that the smaller CRTs didn't have
    high enough res to run the current software. So the hotshots had to
    eat crow and order the next batch of PCs with the high res CRTs, and
    swap them with the lower res CRTs in the CAD/CAM lab.

    The clueless hotshots could've read the original purchase request,
    which said that the larger CRTs were needed to run the software, and
    to not make substitutions. Doh.

    So the hotshots in accounting, in their zealous bean counting, might
    be thought of as building early obsolescence into the PCs. Just
    another example of your tax dollars in action.

    @@[email protected]@[email protected]@@[email protected]@[email protected]@[email protected]@@[email protected]@[email protected]@[email protected]@,@@[email protected]@[email protected],@@[email protected]@[email protected]@[email protected]@
    ###Got a Question about ELECTRONICS? Check HERE First:###
    My email address is whitelisted. *All* email sent to it
    goes directly to the trash unless you add NOSPAM in the
    Subject: line with other stuff. alondra101 <at>
    Don't be ripped off by the big book dealers. Go to the URL
    that will give you a choice and save you money(up to half). You'll be glad you did!
    Just when you thought you had all this figured out, the gov't
    changed it:
    @@[email protected]@[email protected]@[email protected]@[email protected]@[email protected]@[email protected]@@[email protected]@[email protected]@@[email protected]@[email protected]@[email protected]@[email protected]@[email protected]@[email protected]@@
  7. Jim Thompson

    Jim Thompson Guest

    Watt Sun, Bad positioning of follow-up post... inserting your comments
    between my comments and my name. Many might think I said what, in
    fact, you said.

    ...Jim Thompson
  8. Watson A.Name" wrote ...
    Hapened even at my employer (Intel) on a corporate-wide scale.
    While our marketing people were out there showing how spending
    a bit more would lengthen the useful lifetime of a PC, our own
    bean counters were cheaping us out for our internal computers.
    There are still people waiting for the "PC refresh" cycle to get
    upggraded from Pentium(TM) 2 machines running at a few hundred
    Fortunately, they have seen the light and the new machnes are
    pretty high-end.
  9. You poor bastard! :)

    I'm sitting here on the net while I have 4 other windows going doing
    everything from PC board layouts to Photoshop renderings to a color
    printer driver running full blast, all while supporting a LAN. Yet I'm
    running on a 200-Mhz pentium pro, 128M RAM, and a Windoze 95 operating
    system which is providing acceptable response time.

    I probably would have a problem concurrently running the latest
    whiz-bang computer game, but I became bored with computer games back
    around 1975 when the novelty expired.

    Then too, if you are working for Intel, you are working for a firm
    whose CEO praises inefficient MIPS sucking software, without which new
    products would find no market. Perhaps this is why you are allowed to
    run MIPS sucking software and games in the workplace?

    Harry C.
  10. Agreed! ...and this from a company that told the rest to equip
    every engineer with a laptop because it was *free*. I guess
    Intel doesn't make displays. ;-)
    My Win system at work is a laptop (remember Intel convinced us
    all we needed them) with an attached 21" display (3200x1600
    desktop). I also have a 21" display on a "workstation" accessible
    by pivoting my chair 90 degrees. I guess Intel hasn't figured
    out the "productivity" they've been harping on. ;-)
    '75, naw. The last game I got enthraled with was Adventure on
    the original PC (I know it was far older). I did many quarters
    worth of Asteroids, Pong, and ICBMs (whatever it was called) in
    bars. The home-computer stuff simply didn't make it, AFAIC.
    It seems that his CEO is talking out two sides of the mouth.

    If Intel_customer ; We gotta make a distinction
    then Hardware := productive ; Sales good
    else Hardware := expense ; Costs bad
    end if; ; Don't tell customer that
    ; that we don't believe
    ; even own propaganda
  11. "Keith R. Williams" wrote ...
    They buy them just like everyone else. The increase in productivity
    more than makes up for the extra cost. I was amazed at the freedom
    of being able to do work in meetings, in the cafeteria, on the plane,
    etc. and not being tied to my cubicle.
    Office ergonimics is a bit beyond selling microprocessors (or even
    computers) don't you think?
  12. What about the overall loss to the productivity of the meeting while
    you're sitting there dorking with your laptop? I'm quite serious in
    asking this.

    During my years at Raytheon and GRS, meetings were called for a
    purpose, and it took one's full attention to remain abreast about what
    was ongoing at the meeting if one was to make a constructive comment.
    Of course today I suppose that that's now considered 'old school'.
    Right, and I can only imagine the creative and productive ispirations
    that transpire and demand immediate computer attention in such
    Of course it is...every professonal realizes that it borders on totall
    bullshit rivaling that of even teleconferencing! It's possibly a
    reason why productivity and innovation has gradually come to a
    complete stand-still in this country over the past 15 or so years.

    This is because, in many reorganized and new firms, employees are more
    focused on insignificant cosmetic details than on addressing the more
    difficult real issues.

    Harry C.
  13. "Harry Conover" wrote ...
    Likely similar across the worldwide corporation, but the groups I
    have worked in are pretty no-nonsense. You are expected to excuse
    youself from even attending a meeting unless your presense is really
    necessary. And your continued employment is dependent on your
    latest Ranking and Rating, no matter your position or senority.

    And I have increasingly observed meetings where real-time laptop
    access to backup information is REQUIRED in order to conduct the
    meeting. (For example, complex coordination meetings involving
    dozens of separate groups.)
    Business moves faster than that today. And deals with a great deal
    more information as well. In some cases, information that changes
    even DURING the meeting.
    Half the meetings I attend are held in the cafeteria. Wireless
    networking throughout the campus. Try to think outside the old box.
    Sorry, I can't figure out what you are trying to say here.
    But here's hoping you are feeling better soon.
  14. CWatters

    CWatters Guest

    The point is that if you only use computers in schools to teach kids about
    computers you are missing out on the main benefits. There is a lot of
    educational software designed to teach other subjects (geography, history,
    maths etc). But they can also have unexpected effects...

    There was a trial some years back in the UK that gave a few laptops to
    schools to see what impact they would have. One school gave their laptop to
    the most disruptive pupil so he could take it home etc. They fully expected
    it to come back in bits. To their surprise it transformed the kid. He
    quickly became the class "expert" that other kids turned to for advice. His
    whole attitude changed as he no longer had to cause trouble to get
  15. Jim Thompson

    Jim Thompson Guest

    He was probably bored out of his skull until he had his hands on a

    ...Jim Thompson
  16. ...
    "Jim Thompson" wrote ...
    I suspect a lot of us can identify with that phenomenon first-hand!
  17. Richard, in the real world of firms that are really goal and
    accomplishment oriented, your required presence at important meetings
    has nothing whatsoever to do with "your latest Ranking and Rating, no
    matter your position or seniority". In every firm I have worked for
    during the past 40 years, ranking and ratings have zero significance
    except to the HR department and sometimes payroll. At both Kodak and
    Raytheon, ratings and ranking were largely a measure of someone's
    popularity and political connect -- They had absolutely nothing to do
    with an individuals productivity and ability to contribute.

    Well managed firms know this, and exploit it. Often, very often, you
    realize that the person with the incite is a person who is often very
    unpopular with both his peers and his manager. I once worked for a man
    who was arguably the most hated and despised person in the firm, but
    because his projects always were completed on time and made higher
    than average profits for the firm, was respected by everyone that
    worked for him for this!

    When I worked under him, I quickly learned that to accomplish any goal
    at a meeting (which ostensibly is called for such a purpose), you
    invite as key participants those people that you persoanlly know can
    make useful contributions to the meeting's agenda and goal. It always
    worked for me, even though some of these meetings involved a great
    deal of "plain talk", personal insults and often foul language.

    Of course committee managed firms don't approve of this, which sooner
    or later will be recognized as one of their fundamental flaws.

    Harry C.
  18. I was simply twitting you about Intel's goals. They told
    everyone that professionals should have the best tools, since
    they were paid for by productivity. Indeed at one IDF they
    stated that a high[end laptop paid for itself (was "free") if the
    user did an additional two hours of work a month.

    ....yet you have crappy displays. ;-) ...which IMO are far more
    important that a nice laptop.
    Not ergonomics at all (though that is important too). It's all
    about function. I have three monitors on my desk, two on my
    laptop and one on my *IX box. My point is that Intel must not
    believe what it says about productivity. Cobbler's shoes, and
    all... BTDT.
  19. ------------
    But which most people will come home to, you ass.

    Most people WITH computers are using second and third HAND computers!

    We should spend the money teaching them HOW to USE them, NOT on the
    whiz-bang that less than the privileged 2% of us use to do high-end
    bullshit and download movies/burn DVD's the fastest!

    Let them learn Photoshop on a few of their weekends, teach them to
    more good than learning fucking Photoshop so they can, duh: "get rich
    doing web-graphics"!! We have too many unskilled drones in this culture
    who only know how to USE high-end tools superficially without knowing
    how anything works so they can actually innovate new technology! Teach
    them how to build a house, wire a house, how to repair a car, fix their
    VCR, automate their home, that will do them a lot more fucking good
    than computers at school that will download porn twice as fast and never
    get to!!!

  20. Jim Thompson

    Jim Thompson Guest

    On Thu, 13 Nov 2003 22:07:56 -0500, Keith R. Williams

    I did a lot of stuff for Intel (USB and Firewire) before they decided,
    about two years ago, that they could do without outside help.

    I was always amazed at the archaic systems they had for doing
    simulations... their proprietary simulator drove me nuts... butt slow
    and with an interface from hell.

    I often would drive home (~20 minutes), run the simulation on PSpice,
    and then go back to Intel with the answer... often they would still be
    trying to get their simulator to converge.

    ...Jim Thompson
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