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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Wi-Fi in Schools: Testing for Microwave Radiation Dangers in the Classroom

Wi-Fi in Schools: Testing for Microwave Radiation Dangers in the Classroom

Dr George Carlo speaks on wi-fi radiation schools (part 3)

Dr George Carlo speaks on wi-fi radiation schools (part 3)

Wi-Fi in Schools: Dr. George Carlo (part 2)

Wi-Fi in Schools: Dr. George Carlo (part 2)

Wi-Fi in Schools: Dr. George Carlo (part 1)

Wi-Fi in Schools: Dr. George Carlo (part 1) 

Dr. Magda Havas: WiFi in Schools is Safe. True or False?

Dr. Magda Havas: WiFi in Schools is Safe. True or False?

CBC Television on Wifi Health Dangers In Schools

CBC Television on Wifi Health Dangers In Schools

Thursday, March 29, 2012

3/29/12 letter to Dr. Rod Rock on dangers of Wi-Fi in schools

Dr. Rock,

I spoke at the end of the 3/26/12 CCS Board meeting.  I said that I had done research on the use of Wi-Fi in schools and asked if you had checked into the health concerns of Wi-Fi in schools prior to proposing WI-Fi technology for the schools.  You did not comment on that when you spoke after I spoke at the meeting and you have not responded to me since then on the subject.

I would hope that you have not done any research on health issues on the use of Wi-Fi in schools, because if you had, I feel that would mean that you were deliberately putting the health and safety of the CCS students, staff, and volunteers at risk.  After receiving this email you cannot pretend that you have no knowledge about the health dangers of Wi-Fi in order to deny responsibility for the health effects that may result from implementing district wide Wi-Fi in schools. 

I would like to make you aware of some research I was able to find on the internet in regard to Wi-Fi.  Please check out the following data and links that have information on the dangers of Wi-Fi in general and specifically in schools.

It is estimated that 3% of the population is "extremely sensitive" to Wi-Fi radiation and a third of the population is "sensitive".  However, Wi-Fi puts everyone who is exposed to it on a long term basis (like students and employees in a school setting) at a potentially greater risk of short and long term health impacts.

This is a public school system that is in place to support ALL CCS students.  The school district has an obligation to provide a safe environment for all of the students, employees, volunteers, and anyone else who comes into the school buildings.  If the school district puts in 24x7 Wi-Fi, a student or employee who is sensitive to the effects of the Wi-Fi may be unable to attend school (or work) at all or could be made sick by the radio frequency microwaves from the Wi-Fi.  The youngest children and pregnant women are very sensitive, but others could also be more prone to problems.  

"The Seletun Panel (February, 2011), consisting of international scientists and experts, including Lloyd Morgan, recommends wired internet access in schools, and strongly recommends that schools do not install wireless internet connections that create pervasive and prolonged EMF exposures for children.  .  The Panel was led by Professor Olle Johansson, Ph.D. (Associate Professor, The Experimental Dermatology Unit, Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institute, Stockhom, Sweden) who submitted an open letter to Canada’s Greater Victoria School District stating further explaining his concern that, ‘WI-FI routers can not be regarded as safe in schools, but must be deemed highly hazardous and unsafe for the children as well as for the staff.’ See: for more information.

Adverse health effects from this long-term low level electromagnetic radiation include:
       heart attack,
       cell death,
       diseases of the blood,
       interference to bone marrow,
       brain tumors,
       altered calcium level in cells,
       reduction in night-time melatonin,
       suppression of the immune system,
       skin problems,
       lymphatic diseases,
       vaginal discharge,
       vascular system disease,
       childhood cancer,
       sleep problems,
       mental problems involving depression,
       memory loss,
       difficulty in concentrating,
       dizziness and fatigue,
       suicidal tendencies,
       and infertility. (Trower  Dec. ¶ 21).

Other health endpoints that have been reported to be associated with ELF and/or RF include:
       childhood leukemia,
       adult brain tumors,
       childhood brain tumors,
       genotoxic effects (DNA damage and micronucleation),
       neurological effects and neurodegenerative disease (like ALS and Alzheimer's),
       immune system disregulation,
       allergic and inflammatory responses,
       breast cancer in men and women,
       and some cardiovascular effects. (Carpenter Dec. ¶ 8)

There is "suggestive" to "strongly-suggestive" evidence that RF exposures may cause changes in:
       cell membrane function,
       cell communication,
       activation of proto-oncogenes,
       and can trigger the production of stress proteins at exposure levels below current regulatory limits. (Carpenter Dec. ¶ 10).

Resulting effects can include:
       DNA breaks and chromosome aberrations,
       cell death including death of brain neurons,
       increased free radical production,
       activation of the endogenous opioid system,
       cell stress and premature aging,
       changes in brain function including memory loss,
       retarded learning,
       performance impairment in children,
       headaches and fatigue,
       sleep disorders,
       neurodegenerative conditions,
       changes in immune function (allergic and inflammatory responses),
       and reduction in melatonin secretion and cancers. (Id.)

These links have more information:  There is a civil action lawsuit against the Portland Public School district in regard to the district's use of Wi-Fi.  It is also attached to this email as a PDF document.   This is an audio interview of Magda Havas, an expert in the study of Wi-Fi and other forms of microwave radiation.  This is a very good document to start with (also on the email attachment: 07_Havas_WiFi-SNAFU.pdf)  Dr. Magda Havas' website (BSc, PhD, Associate Professor of Environmental and Resource Studies at Trent University, Peterborough, Canada)      Important video by Dr. Magda Havas, BSc, PhD, Associate Professor of Environmental and Resource Studies at Trent University, Peterborough, Canada    Information on responsible digital communication in schools,72,0   Citizens for Safe Technology website     Information about Wolfe-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a heart condition that 1 in every 700 students has where Wi-Fi exposure can trigger episodes of arrhythmia and tachycardia.

Additional sources of information on Wi-Fi on the web:

Should you implement the technology plan utilizing Wi-Fi devices in the schools as stated in the proposed bond and/or you continue to utilize Wi-Fi in the schools, I will consider you responsible for the health concerns that ensue on the students as well as district employees and volunteers who might be affected by the microwave radiation from both the Wi-Fi antennas as well as the wireless devices the students will be using.  The Portland Public School system is being sued by parents in regard to the use of Wi-Fi in their schools.

I want you to know that I am not against technology.  I work in the technology industry, but my being contrary to the current bond request and Wi-Fi technology is not related to any personal financial matter on my part.  My opposition to the bond is related to the already high district debt, excessive cost for the bond, lack of proper planning on the part of the district, using the students as guinea pigs in regard to the teaching technology and the use of Wi-Fi technology (health and safety), as well as a lack of concern for the wants and needs of the community.   

Solution: When using internet connectivity, there is a wired alternative that does not expose humans to RF damage.  It is called powerline networking.

If the district ends up putting Wi-Fi in all of the schools and supplying the students wireless devices to use in school and/or at home, there is likely to be a health epidemic in the school system related to the Wi-Fi that may be felt at the outset and for decades to come (after you have left Clarkston Schools for greener pastures). 

You have now been advised and you cannot feign ignorance of the health dangers of Wi-Fi in schools.  Therefore, should the district go ahead with the Wi-Fi initiative in the district, whether or not the bond passes, I will hold both you personally, and the district as a legal entity, responsible and liable for the health impacts on the students, the employees, and volunteers who may be affected in the district. 

By the way, I will be forwarding this same information to the press.
Thank you.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Reasons to vote "no" on the $20 million "technology bond" at Clarkston Schools

I have never voted against a school millage in the past, but I will be voting no on this one.  There are so many reasons why this bond is wrong at this time and how it is set up.  They include:

- ill timed (with the economy as it is, the unemployment, the high percentage of families in the district on subsidized meals, and the extra $35,000 it will cost to have the 'stealth' one topic election in May when nothing else is on the ballot and most won't come out to vote).

- no plan for the "technology" (the presentation by the district on what they are going to do is vague at best and changes based on their audience - they have obviously not "done their homework")

- no proof their technology application will do ANYTHING positive for student's learning, test scores, etc.

- no reports from the test groups that had wireless devices this year on the success or failure of the program

- no reports from the district on the number of damaged/broken devices

- no reports about the fact that to utilize three times the number of wireless antennas in the schools if they use iPads vs. PCs resulting in three times the microwave exposure

- no safety reports or warnings from administration on the health impact of having wireless devices in the schools on students, pregnant women, men wishing to father children, people highly sensitive to pulsed microwaves, or everyone else for that matter

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Another insightful 3/19/12 Anonymous post on the $20 million bond, the bogus "it's for the kids" campaign, and Dr. Rock

Another insightful 3/19/12 Anonymous post on the $20 million bond, the bogus "it's for the kids" campaign, and Dr. Rock:

"A previous commenter summed it up nicely: This $20 million tech bond isn't about "the kids," it's about Dr. Rod Rock trying to make a name for himself in education circles. Note that he doesn't stay in one place very long, which probably explains why he won't put down roots in Clarkston. This is just another springboard for his bigger career aspirations -- but on our dime."
How very true in my opinion.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Very insightful Anonymous post from 3/19/12

Very insightful Anonymous post from 3/19/12:

"I have never voted down a school bond proposal in my life, but I will vote "no" on May 8 for several reasons.

1. CCS has too much debt. The best thing we can do for "the kids" is to teach them that you don't borrow money for technology that is obsolete in 24 to 36 months. You live within your means.

2. Too many families can't afford a bigger tax burden. Their homes are under water and unemployment/underemployment is still too high. What world do the four members who voted for this live in?

3. I have interviewed job applicants who are terrific on the computer and still can't find England on a map. iPads may be good for Apple's stock price but they don't teach intellectual curiosity.

4. I am put off by the Clarkston Board of Education's Politburo-style conduct of keeping dissenting voices from being heard.

5. I am equally put off by the sneaky move to slide this issue onto a special election -- at the cost of $35,000 -- to keep turnout low and to stack the deck with the "yes" crowd.

6. The superintendent wants to raise my taxes and plunge our district into more debt but apparently isn't such a believer in CCS' future that he'll bring his family here (and pay Clarkston taxes). Which raises a question: Are are the taxpayers picking up the cost of him lengthy commute via his car allowance?

7. I've seen no studies linking iPads and wireless connectivity to test scores. I have seen studies showing that tablets and netbooks in schools have a short shelf life due to wear and tear.

7. Frankly, I don't trust the people running CCS to spend the bond money wisely or ethically."

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Get facts about the $20 million CCS bond election here - CRISIS - Citizens 4 Responsible Intelligent Spending In Schools

CRISIS - Citizens 4 Responsible Intelligent Spending In Schools

Get up to date facts about the proposed $20 million Clarkston Community Schools high-tech bond election to increase your property taxes here:

Please support this non-profit organization with your time and/or funds to help them fight the May 8, 2012 Clarkston Community Schools bond election/tax increase request.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Facts about EMF and Wi-Fi 

Click on the link above for more information in the facts about EMF and Wi-Fi, which include:

"There are many other devices that emit the same radiation as Wi-Fi. These include:

• DECT (digitally enhanced cordless telecommunications) and DECT-style baby monitors. Most of these devices emit pulsing microwave radiation from their base station (even when the phone is not being used), and are frequently placed by the bedhead or on the work desk.
• wireless home entertainment systems and game consoles (also known to emit microwaves even when switched off)
• some wireless security/alarm systems
          • digital wireless electric meters installed on our homes and other buildings
• wireless interactive whiteboards and paging systems
       What are the health effects?

People may be affected in many different ways. Reported health effects from this type of radiation are one or more of the following:

Neurological: headaches, dizziness/nausea, memory and concentration difficulties, insomnia, depression/anxiety, fatigue/weakness, numbness/tingling, muscle and joint pains.

Cardiac: heart palpitations, shortness of breath, heart arrhythmias, high blood pressure.

Eyes: pain/discomfort, pressure in the eyes, deteriorating vision, cataracts.

Ears: ringing in the ears, hearing loss.

Other: skin problems (including hives), digestive problems, dehydration, nosebleeds, impaired sense of smell and light sensitivity.

Research has also pointed to an increased likelihood of long-term effects – including cancer, neurological diseases, genetic effects such as male sterility, miscarriage and birth defects, as well as asthma, diabetes, thyroid dysfunction and bleeding disorders.

It is also known that microwave radiation penetrates the body of a younger person more than an adult, so the possible long-term effects on young, developing children are of particular concern."
Questions for the parents of CCS students and Clarkston School district voters before they decide on the $20 million "technology bond" on May 8, 2012:
  1. Is all day, all school year, school-wide Wi-Fi radiation what you want for your children?
  2. Do the above health concerns sound like the kinds of medical problems you are willing to risk for your child?
  3. Does it surprise you that Dr. Rock has not moved his family into the district to expose HIS children to this radiation pollution at school?   

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Health issues with Wi-Fi in schools

There are health concerns from long term exposure to radiation from Wi-Fi in schools for everyone - school employees and students, but especially for certain populations that currently exist in the school system.  

The exposure of an incoming CCS kindergarten student is significant - 6.5 hours a day x 5 days a week x 40 weeks a year = 1,300 hours x 13 years =  16,900 hours (long term exposure). 
An Air Force study titled "Long-Term Low-Level Microwave Irradiation of Rats" was completed in 1984, published in Bioelectromagnetics, Volume 13, Issue 6, pages 469 - 496, 1992, and published online 10/19/05, came to the following conclusions:
Long term low level exposure to Wi-Fi:  
  1. promotes tumors in rats
  2. increases tumor occurrence vs no Wi-Fi
-  16% increase in benign cancers
-  100% increase in metastatic cancers
-  260% increase in primary cancers
  1. negative impact on the immune system
  2. promotes a decrease in sperm motility and viability potentially leading to fertility problems
  3. possible DNA damage
  4. "rouleaux" formations of the blood (red blood cells clump together)
  5. contributes to headaches, dizziness, concentration issues, nausea, weakness, etc.
  6. arrhythmia and tachycardia
  7. damages the heart
  8. can cause heart irregularities
One in 700 children has Wolfe-Parkinson-White Syndrome and when those children are exposed to Wi-Fi, it causes arrhythmia and tachycardia.
Historically, world-wide, when parents, teachers, and students in schools have discovered and proven dangerous levels of Wi-Fi radiation in the schools, nothing is done with the information by administration.    

According to Dr. Magda Havas, BSc, PhD, Associate Professor of Environmental and Resource Studies, Trent University, Peterborough, Canada, there are people who are especially sensitive to Wi-Fi, but that long term exposure to Wi-Fi can result in medical problems for others that may not be evident for years. 

Obviously, in Dr. Rock's intent to make Clarkston Community Schools the first major public school district in the country to install district wide Wi-Fi and provide wireless devices to all students, he apparently failed to look to see if it was actually safe to do so.  I hope that Dr. Rock does actually care enough about the health and safety of the students and the district employees to "JUST SAY NO TO Wi-Fi". 

Check out these links:      Important video by Dr. Magda Havas, BSc, PhD, Associate Professor of Environmental and Resource Studies at Trent University, Peterborough, Canada    Information on responsible digital communication in schools     Information about Wolfe-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a heart condition that 1 in every 700 students has where Wi-Fi exposure can trigger episodes of arrhythmia and tachycardia.  (a very good 30 minute video story on RF impact transmitted on the BBC split into three 10 minute videos)

More excellent web sources of information on Wi-Fi RF impact:

"In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores", The New York Times, 9/4/11, Matt Richtel

Dr. Rod Rock, Clarkston Community Schools superintendent, has said that the students of CCS NEED all of the "one to global" technology and we have to accept the expense ($20 million bond) and health concerns from providing Wi-Fi, but he is not expecting any of the test scores to go up as a result, although it's apparent that student's test scores need help.  
Grading the Digital School

In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores

Jim Wilson/The New York Times
Students using an interactive whiteboard, part of an ambitious technology plan in the Kyrene School District in Arizona.
CHANDLER, Ariz. — Amy Furman, a seventh-grade English teacher here, roams among 31 students sitting at their desks or in clumps on the floor. They’re studying Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” — but not in any traditional way.
Grading the Digital School
The High-Tech Gamble

Articles in this series will look at the intersection of education, technology and business as schools embrace digital learning.
To hear from more experts, and to share your own predictions for the future of technology in the classroom, visit the Bits blog.
Jim Wilson/The New York Times
Molly Siegel and Christian Dedman, both 7, worked together with a laptop during a class in the Kyrene School District in Arizona. 

In this technology-centric classroom, students are bent over laptops, some blogging or building Facebook pages from the perspective of Shakespeare’s characters. One student compiles a song list from the Internet, picking a tune by the rapper Kanye West to express the emotions of Shakespeare’s lovelorn Silvius.

The class, and the Kyrene School District as a whole, offer what some see as a utopian vision of education’s future. Classrooms are decked out with laptops, big interactive screens and software that drills students on every basic subject. Under a ballot initiative approved in 2005, the district has invested roughly $33 million in such technologies.

The digital push here aims to go far beyond gadgets to transform the very nature of the classroom, turning the teacher into a guide instead of a lecturer, wandering among students who learn at their own pace on Internet-connected devices.

“This is such a dynamic class,” Ms. Furman says of her 21st-century classroom. “I really hope it works.”

Hope and enthusiasm are soaring here. But not test scores.

Since 2005, scores in reading and math have stagnated in Kyrene, even as statewide scores have risen.

To be sure, test scores can go up or down for many reasons. But to many education experts, something is not adding up — here and across the country. In a nutshell: schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.

This conundrum calls into question one of the most significant contemporary educational movements. Advocates for giving schools a major technological upgrade — which include powerful educators, Silicon Valley titans and White House appointees — say digital devices let students learn at their own pace, teach skills needed in a modern economy and hold the attention of a generation weaned on gadgets.

Some backers of this idea say standardized tests, the most widely used measure of student performance, don’t capture the breadth of skills that computers can help develop. But they also concede that for now there is no better way to gauge the educational value of expensive technology investments.

“The data is pretty weak. It’s very difficult when we’re pressed to come up with convincing data,” said Tom Vander Ark, the former executive director for education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and an investor in educational technology companies. When it comes to showing results, he said, “We better put up or shut up.”

And yet, in virtually the same breath, he said change of a historic magnitude is inevitably coming to classrooms this decade: “It’s one of the three or four biggest things happening in the world today.”

Critics counter that, absent clear proof, schools are being motivated by a blind faith in technology and an overemphasis on digital skills — like using PowerPoint and multimedia tools — at the expense of math, reading and writing fundamentals. They say the technology advocates have it backward when they press to upgrade first and ask questions later.

The spending push comes as schools face tough financial choices. In Kyrene, for example, even as technology spending has grown, the rest of the district’s budget has shrunk, leading to bigger classes and fewer periods of music, art and physical education.

At the same time, the district’s use of technology has earned it widespread praise. It is upheld as a model of success by the National School Boards Association, which in 2008 organized a visit by 100 educators from 17 states who came to see how the district was innovating.

And the district has banked its future and reputation on technology. Kyrene, which serves 18,000 kindergarten to eighth-grade students, mostly from the cities of Tempe, Phoenix and Chandler, uses its computer-centric classes as a way to attract children from around the region, shoring up enrollment as its local student population shrinks. More students mean more state dollars.

Jim Wilson/The New York Times
At Kyrene Aprende Middle School, students took their final exam last May. The district has invested roughly $33 million in technology.
Jim Wilson/The New York Times
At the start of the school year, Amy Furman tries to inspire her students at Aprende Middle School to write. “I start with pens and pencils,” she says, but computers help the students edit their thoughts and work. 

The issue of tech investment will reach a critical point in November. The district plans to go back to local voters for approval of $46.3 million more in taxes over seven years to allow it to keep investing in technology. That represents around 3.5 percent of the district’s annual spending, five times what it spends on textbooks.

The district leaders’ position is that technology has inspired students and helped them grow, but that there is no good way to quantify those achievements — putting them in a tough spot with voters deciding whether to bankroll this approach again.

“My gut is telling me we’ve had growth,” said David K. Schauer, the superintendent here. “But we have to have some measure that is valid, and we don’t have that.”

It gives him pause.

“We’ve jumped on bandwagons for different eras without knowing fully what we’re doing. This might just be the new bandwagon,” he said. “I hope not.”

A Dearth of Proof
The pressure to push technology into the classroom without proof of its value has deep roots.
In 1997, a science and technology committee assembled by President Clinton issued an urgent call about the need to equip schools with technology.

If such spending was not increased by billions of dollars, American competitiveness could suffer, according to the committee, whose members included educators like Charles M. Vest, then president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and business executives like John A. Young, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard.

To support its conclusion, the committee’s report cited the successes of individual schools that embraced computers and saw test scores rise or dropout rates fall. But while acknowledging that the research on technology’s impact was inadequate, the committee urged schools to adopt it anyhow.

The report’s final sentence read: “The panel does not, however, recommend that the deployment of technology within America’s schools be deferred pending the completion of such research.”

Since then, the ambitions of those who champion educational technology have grown — from merely equipping schools with computers and instructional software, to putting technology at the center of the classroom and building the teaching around it.

Kyrene had the same sense of urgency as President Clinton’s committee when, in November 2005, it asked voters for an initial $46.3 million for laptops, classroom projectors, networking gear and other technology for teachers and administrators.

Before that, the district had given 300 elementary school teachers five laptops each. Students and teachers used them with great enthusiasm, said Mark Share, the district’s 64-year-old director of technology, a white-bearded former teacher from the Bronx with an iPhone clipped to his belt.

“If we know something works, why wait?” Mr. Share told The Arizona Republic the month before the vote. The district’s pitch was based not on the idea that test scores would rise, but that technology represented the future.

The measure, which faced no organized opposition, passed overwhelmingly. It means that property owners in the dry, sprawling flatlands here, who live in apartment complexes, cookie-cutter suburban homes and salmon-hued mini-mansions, pay on average $75 more a year in taxes, depending on the assessed value of their homes, according to the district.

But the proof sought by President Clinton’s committee remains elusive even today, though researchers have been seeking answers.

Many studies have found that technology has helped individual classrooms, schools or districts. For instance, researchers found that writing scores improved for eighth-graders in Maine after they were all issued laptops in 2002. The same researchers, from the University of Southern Maine, found that math performance picked up among seventh- and eighth-graders after teachers in the state were trained in using the laptops to teach.

A question plaguing many education researchers is how to draw broader inferences from such case studies, which can have serious limitations. For instance, in the Maine math study, it is hard to separate the effect of the laptops from the effect of the teacher training.

Educators would like to see major trials years in length that clearly demonstrate technology’s effect. But such trials are extraordinarily difficult to conduct when classes and schools can be so different, and technology is changing so quickly.

And often the smaller studies produce conflicting results. Some classroom studies show that math scores rise among students using instructional software, while others show that scores actually fall. The high-level analyses that sum up these various studies, not surprisingly, give researchers pause about whether big investments in technology make sense.

One broad analysis of laptop programs like the one in Maine, for example, found that such programs are not a major factor in student performance.

“Rather than being a cure-all or silver bullet, one-to-one laptop programs may simply amplify what’s already occurring — for better or worse,” wrote Bryan Goodwin, spokesman for Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning, a nonpartisan group that did the study, in an essay. Good teachers, he said, can make good use of computers, while bad teachers won’t, and they and their students could wind up becoming distracted by the technology.

A review by the Education Department in 2009 of research on online courses — which more than one million K-12 students are taking — found that few rigorous studies had been done and that policy makers “lack scientific evidence” of their effectiveness.. A division of the Education Department that rates classroom curriculums has found that much educational software is not an improvement over textbooks.

Larry Cuban, an education professor emeritus at Stanford University, said the research did not justify big investments by districts.

“There is insufficient evidence to spend that kind of money. Period, period, period,” he said. “There is no body of evidence that shows a trend line.”

Some advocates for technology disagree.

Karen Cator, director of the office of educational technology in the United States Department of Education, said standardized test scores were an inadequate measure of the value of technology in schools. Ms. Cator, a former executive at Apple Computer, said that better measurement tools were needed but, in the meantime, schools knew what students needed.

“In places where we’ve had a large implementing of technology and scores are flat, I see that as great,” she said. “Test scores are the same, but look at all the other things students are doing: learning to use the Internet to research, learning to organize their work, learning to use professional writing tools, learning to collaborate with others.”

For its part, Kyrene has become a model to many by training teachers to use technology and getting their ideas on what inspires them. As Mr. Share says in the signature file at the bottom of every e-mail he sends: “It’s not the stuff that counts — it’s what you do with it that matters.”

So people here are not sure what to make of the stagnant test scores. Many of the district’s schools, particularly those in more affluent areas, already had relatively high scores, making it a challenge to push them significantly higher. A jump in students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches was largely a result of the recession, not a shift in the population the district serves, said Nancy Dundenhoefer, its community relations manager.

Mr. Share, whose heavy influence on more than $7 million a year in technology spending has made him a power broker, said he did not think demographic changes were a good explanation.

“You could argue that test scores would be lower without the technology, but that’s a copout,” he said, adding that the district should be able to deliver some measure of what he considers its obvious success with technology. “It’s a conundrum.”

Results aside, it’s easy to see why technology is such an easy sell here, given the enthusiasm surrounding it in some classrooms.

Engaging With Paper
“I start with pens and pencils,” says Ms. Furman, 41, who is short and bubbly and devours young-adult novels to stay in touch with students. Her husband teaches eighth grade in the district, and their son and daughter are both students.

At the beginning of the school year, Ms. Furman tries to inspire her students at Aprende Middle School to write, a task she says becomes increasingly difficult when students reach the patently insecure middle-school years.

In one class in 2009 she had them draw a heart on a piece of paper. Inside the heart, she asked them to write the names of things and people dear to them. One girl started to cry, then another, as the class shared their stories.

It was something Ms. Furman doubted would have happened if the students had been using computers. “There is a connection between the physical hand on the paper and the words on the page,” she said. “It’s intimate.”

But, she said, computers play an important role in helping students get their ideas down more easily, edit their work so they can see instant improvement, and share it with the class. She uses a document camera to display a student’s paper at the front of the room for others to dissect.

Ms. Furman said the creative and editing tools, by inspiring students to make quick improvements to their writing, pay dividends in the form of higher-quality work. Last year, 14 of her students were chosen as finalists in a statewide essay contest that asked them how literature had affected their lives. “I was running down the hall, weeping, saying, ‘Get these students together. We need to tell them they’ve won!’ ”

Other teachers say the technology is the only way to make this generation learn.

“They’re inundated with 24/7 media, so they expect it,” said Sharon Smith, 44, a gregarious seventh-grade social studies teacher whose classroom is down the hall from Ms. Furman’s.

Minutes earlier, Ms. Smith had taught a Civil War lesson in a way unimaginable even 10 years ago. With the lights off, a screen at the front of the room posed a question: “Jefferson Davis was Commander of the Union Army: True or False?”

The 30 students in the classroom held wireless clickers into which they punched their answers. Seconds later, a pie chart appeared on the screen: 23 percent answered “True,” 70 percent “False,” and 6 percent didn’t know.

The students hooted and hollered, reacting to the instant poll. Ms. Smith then drew the students into a conversation about the answers.

The enthusiasm underscores a key argument for investing in classroom technology: student engagement.

That idea is central to the National Education Technology Plan released by the White House last year, which calls for the “revolutionary transformation” of schools. The plan endorses bringing “state-of-the art technology into learning to enable, motivate and inspire all students.”

But the research, what little there is of it, does not establish a clear link between computer-inspired engagement and learning, said Randy Yerrick, associate dean of educational technology at the University of Buffalo.

For him, the best educational uses of computers are those that have no good digital equivalent. As examples, he suggests using digital sensors in a science class to help students observe chemical or physical changes, or using multimedia tools to reach disabled children.

But he says engagement is a “fluffy term” that can slide past critical analysis. And Professor Cuban at Stanford argues that keeping children engaged requires an environment of constant novelty, which cannot be sustained.
“There is very little valid and reliable research that shows the engagement causes or leads to higher academic achievement,” he said.

Instruct or Distract? 
There are times in Kyrene when the technology seems to allow students to disengage from learning: They are left at computers to perform a task but wind up playing around, suggesting, as some researchers have found, that computers can distract and not instruct.

The 23 kindergartners in Christy Asta’s class at Kyrene de las Brisas are broken into small groups, a common approach in Kyrene. A handful stand at desks, others sit at computers, typing up reports.

Xavier Diaz, 6, sits quietly, chair pulled close to his Dell laptop, playing “Alien Addition.” In this math arcade game, Xavier controls a pod at the bottom of the screen that shoots at spaceships falling from the sky. Inside each ship is a pair of numbers. Xavier’s goal is to shoot only the spaceship with numbers that are the sum of the number inside his pod.

But Xavier is just shooting every target in sight. Over and over. Periodically, the game gives him a message: “Try again.” He tries again.

“Even if he doesn’t get it right, it’s getting him to think quicker,” says the teacher, Ms. Asta. She leans down next to him: “Six plus one is seven. Click here.” She helps him shoot the right target. “See, you shot him.”

Perhaps surprisingly given the way young people tend to gravitate toward gadgets, students here seem divided about whether they prefer learning on computers or through more traditional methods.

In a different class, Konray Yuan and Marisa Guisto, both 7, take turns touching letters on the interactive board on the wall. They are playing a spelling game, working together to spell the word “cool.” Each finds one of the letters in a jumbled grid, touching them in the proper order.

Marisa says there isn’t a difference between learning this way and learning on paper. Konray prefers paper, he says, because you get extra credit for good penmanship.

But others, particularly older students, say they enjoy using the technology tools. One of Ms. Furman’s students, Julia Schroder, loved building a blog to write about Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.”

In another class, she and several classmates used a video camera to film a skit about Woodrow Wilson’s 14-point speech during World War I — an approach she preferred to speaking directly to the class.

“I’d be pretty bummed if I had to do a live thing,” she said. “It’s nerve-racking.”

Teachers vs. Tech
Even as students are getting more access to computers here, they are getting less access to teachers.

Reflecting budget cuts, class sizes have crept up in Kyrene, as they have in many places. For example, seventh-grade classes like Ms. Furman’s that had 29 to 31 students grew to more like 31 to 33.

“You can’t continue to be effective if you keep adding one student, then one student, then one student,” Ms. Furman said. “I’m surprised parents aren’t going into the classrooms saying ‘Whoa.’ ”

Advocates of high-tech classrooms say computers are not intended to replace teachers. But they do see a fundamental change in the teacher’s role. Their often-cited mantra is that teachers should go from being “a sage on the stage to a guide on the side.”

And they say that, technology issues aside, class sizes can in fact afford to grow without hurting student performance.

Professor Cuban at Stanford said research showed that student performance did not improve significantly until classes fell under roughly 15 students, and did not get much worse unless they rose above 30.

At the same time, he says bigger classes can frustrate teachers, making it hard to attract and retain talented ones.

In Kyrene, growing class sizes reflect spending cuts; the district’s maintenance and operation budget fell to $95 million this year from $106 million in 2008. The district cannot use the money designated for technology to pay for other things. And the teachers, who make roughly $33,000 to $57,000 a year, have not had a raise since 2008.

Many teachers have second jobs, some in restaurants and retail, said Erin Kirchoff, president of the Kyrene Education Association, the teacher’s association. Teachers talk of being exhausted from teaching all day, then selling shoes at the mall.

Ms. Furman works during the summer at the Kyrene district offices. But that job is being eliminated in 2014, and she is worried about the income loss.

“Without it, we don’t go on vacation,” she said.

Money for other things in the district is short as well. Many teachers say they regularly bring in their own supplies, like construction paper.

“We have Smart Boards in every classroom but not enough money to buy copy paper, pencils and hand sanitizer,” said Nicole Cates, a co-president of the Parent Teacher Organization at Kyrene de la Colina, an elementary school. “You don’t go buy a new outfit when you don’t have enough dinner to eat.”

But she loves the fact that her two children, a fourth-grader and first-grader, are learning technology, including PowerPoint and educational games.

To some who favor high-tech classrooms, the resource squeeze presents an opportunity. Their thinking is that struggling schools will look for more efficient ways to get the job done, creating an impetus to rethink education entirely.

“Let’s hope the fiscal crisis doesn’t get better too soon. It’ll slow down reform,” said Tom Watkins, the former superintendent for the Michigan schools, and now a consultant to businesses in the education sector.
Clearly, the push for technology is to the benefit of one group: technology companies.

The Sellers
It is 4:30 a.m. on a Tuesday. Mr. Share, the director of technology at Kyrene and often an early riser, awakens to the hard sell. Awaiting him at his home computer are six pitches from technology companies.
It’s just another day for the man with the checkbook.

“I get one pitch an hour,” he said. He finds most of them useless and sometimes galling: “They’re mostly car salesmen. I think they believe in the product they’re selling, but they don’t have a leg to stand on as to why the product is good or bad.”

Mr. Share bases his buying decisions on two main factors: what his teachers tell him they need, and his experience. For instance, he said he resisted getting the interactive whiteboards sold as Smart Boards until, one day in 2008, he saw a teacher trying to mimic the product with a jury-rigged projector setup.
“It was an ‘Aha!’ moment,” he said, leading him to buy Smart Boards, made by a company called Smart Technologies.

He can make that kind of decision because he has money — and the vendors know it. Technology companies track which districts get federal funding and which have passed tax assessments for technology, like Kyrene.
This is big business. Sales of computer software to schools for classroom use were $1.89 billion in 2010. Spending on hardware is more difficult to measure, researchers say, but some put the figure at five times that amount.

The vendors relish their relationship with Kyrene.

“I joke I should have an office here, I’m here so often,” said Will Dunham, a salesman for CCS Presentation Systems, a leading reseller of Smart Boards in Arizona.

Last summer, the district paid $500,000 to CCS to replace ceiling-hung projectors in 400 classrooms. The alternative was to spend $100,000 to replace their aging bulbs, which Mr. Share said were growing dimmer, causing teachers to sometimes have to turn down the lights to see a crisp image.

Mr. Dunham said the purchase made sense because new was better. “I could take a used car down to the mechanic and get it all fixed up and still have a used car.”

But Ms. Kirchoff, the president of the teachers’ association, is furious. “My projector works just fine,” she said. “Give me Kleenex, Kleenex, Kleenex!”

The Parents 
Last November, Kyrene went back to voters to ask them to pay for another seven years of technology spending in the district. The previous measure from 2005 will not expire for two years. But the district wanted to get ahead of the issue, and leave wiggle room just in case the new measure didn’t pass.

It didn’t. It lost by 96 votes out of nearly 50,000 cast. Mr. Share and others here said they attributed the failure to poor wording on the ballot that made it look like a new tax increase, rather than the continuation of one.

They say they will not make the same wording mistake this time. And they say the burden on taxpayers is modest.

“It’s so much bang for the buck,” said Jeremy Calles, Kyrene’s interim chief financial officer. For a small investment, he said, “we get state-of-the-art technology.”

Regardless, some taxpayers have already decided that they will not vote yes.

“When you look at the big picture, it’s hard to say ‘yes, spend more on technology’ when class sizes increase,” said Kameron Bybee, 34, who has two children in district schools. “The district has made up its mind to go forward with the technologically advanced path. Come hell or high water.”

Other parents feel conflicted. Eduarda Schroder, 48, whose daughter Julia was in Ms. Furman’s English class, worked on the political action committee last November to push through an extension of the technology tax. Computers, she says, can make learning more appealing. But she’s also concerned that test scores haven’t gone up.

She says she is starting to ask a basic question. “Do we really need technology to learn?” she said. “It’s a very valid time to ask the question, right before this goes on the ballot."

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"Silicon Valley Wows Educators, and Woos Them", The NY Times, Matt Richtel, 11/4/11
Grading the Digital School

Silicon Valley Wows Educators, and Woos Them

Craig Lassig for The New York Times
Students at Little Falls Community High School in Minnesota trying out some iPad apps.
SAN FRANCISCO — Three times over the last two years, school officials from Little Falls, Minn., have escaped the winter cold for two-day trips to Silicon Valley. Their destination: the headquarters of Apple.

Grading the Digital School

The Marketing Pitch

Articles in this series are looking at the intersection of education, technology and business as schools embrace digital learning.


Craig Lassig for The New York Times
Shawn Alholm, a teacher in Little Falls, Minn., handing an iPad to an elementary school student.

In visits the officials described as inspirational, they checked out the company’s latest gadgets, discussed the instructional value of computers with high-level Apple executives and engineers, and dined with them and other educators at trendy restaurants. Apple paid for meals and their stay at a nearby inn.

The visits paid off for Apple too — to the tune of $1.2 million in sales. In September, Little Falls handed out iPads to 1,700 of its 2,500 students at a celebration in the school gym. And a few days earlier, 200 teachers got a pep talk via video chat from an Apple executive whom the school superintendent had come to know during his company visits.

“Both my visits there have been extraordinary,” said Curt Tryggestad, superintendent of the Little Falls Community Schools, who visited Cupertino in 2010 and earlier this year. “I was truly amazed to sit in a room with Apple vice presidents, people who were second in command to Steve Jobs.”

The demand for technology in classrooms has given rise to a slick and fast-growing sales force. Makers of computers and other gear vigorously court educators as they vie for billions of dollars in school financing. Sometimes inviting criticism of their zealous marketing, they pitch via e-mail, make cold calls, arrange luncheons and hold community meetings.

But Apple in particular woos the education market with a state-of-the art sales operation that educators say is unique, and that, public-interest watchdogs say, raises some concerns. Along with more traditional methods, Apple invites educators from around the country to “executive briefings,” which participants describe as equal parts conversation, seminar and backstage pass.

Such events might seem unremarkable in the business world, where closing a deal can involve thinly veiled junkets, golf outings and lavish dinners. But the courtship of public school officials entrusted with tax dollars is a more sensitive matter. Some critics say the trips could cast doubt on the impartiality of the officials’ buying decisions, which shape the way millions of students learn.

Mike Dean, a spokesman for Common Cause of Minnesota, a nonpartisan group that promotes open government, was critical of the Apple visits, calling them “influence peddling.” He said he believed that a Minnesota law prohibiting government officials from accepting “anything of value” from contractors would apply to the hotel stay and dinners. And he said Apple was offering an experience that made potential buyers feel like insiders.

“There is a geek culture that very much worships Apple, and they’re feeding into that to get more contracts.”

Apple declined to discuss the executive briefings. Natalie Kerris, a spokeswoman for the company, said education was “in its DNA.” As to the public employees who participate in the trips, Ms. Kerris said: “We advise them to follow their local regulations.”

Broadly, efforts by technology vendors to get close to educators are becoming more sophisticated, said John Richards, an adjunct lecturer at the Graduate School of Education at Harvard, where he teaches about education and technology.

“What the textbook sellers had perfected for years has moved into the high-tech world,” said Mr. Richards, who also works as a consultant for technology companies in the education market.

The sales pitches come as questions persist about how effective high-tech products can be at improving student achievement. The companies say their products engage students and prepare them for a digital future, while some academics say technology is not fulfilling its promise.

Even Mr. Jobs, Apple’s co-founder, turned skeptical about technology’s ability to improve education. In a new biography of Mr. Jobs, the book’s author, Walter Isaacson, describes a conversation earlier this year between the ailing Mr. Jobs and Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, in which the two men “agreed that computers had, so far, made surprisingly little impact on schools — far less than on other realms of society such as media and medicine and law.”

The comments echo similar ones Mr. Jobs made in 1996, between his two stints at Apple. In an interview with Wired magazine, Mr. Jobs said that “what’s wrong with education cannot be fixed with technology,” even though he had himself “spearheaded giving away more computer equipment to schools than anybody else on the planet.” Mr. Jobs blamed teachers’ unions for the decline in education.

Craig Lassig for The New York Times
Josiah Entriken-Moore took a look at his device.
Craig Lassig for The New York Times
Tayler Carman was among 1,700 district students to receive the tablets.
Still, Mr. Jobs seemed to hold out hope that devices like the iPad could change things by replacing printed textbooks. Mr. Isaacson writes that the textbook market was the next big business Mr. Jobs hoped to disrupt with technology.

The executive briefings on Apple’s campus have been going on for more than a decade, but have received little attention, partly because participants sign nondisclosure agreements that are meant to protect the company’s technical and business secrets.

Matt Mello, director of technology for the Holly Area Schools in Oakland County, Mich., went on a two-day trip to Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., in April 2010, and his description of it is similar to those of other participants.

Mr. Mello chronicled his visit using the Moleskine notebook Apple gave him. On the first day, he said, there was a light breakfast at the hotel, a ride to Apple’s campus and a briefing around a U-shaped conference table that began with company executives asking the educators about their needs. The latest Apple laptops and other products were scattered around the room. They had lunch in the gourmet cafeteria, where Mr. Mello sampled a bit of everything, and visited the company store.

“I joked that I felt like we were on hallowed ground,” Mr. Mello said of the campus. “There’s this mystique.”
Still, Mr. Mello said he was not sure what would come of a trip that had developed a few months earlier, when the regional sales representative for Apple “snuck a MacBook under my nose and got me to try it.” Soon, he said, the district was conducting a test with 30 Apple laptops and considering whether to upgrade hundreds of Windows-based computers or switch to Apple.

Mr. Mello said the sales representative told him: “If you guys are serious, we could get you an invitation to an executive briefing in Cupertino.”

The representative traveled to Cupertino for the meeting but hung in the background. The sales team wore ties, and the engineers and executives dressed casually. Sales pitches took a back seat to conversations and presentations about how students use computers. One video showed a 10-year-old boy talking about creating podcasts with a MacBook.

The group met with a local participant in Apple’s “distinguished educator” program, Ted Lai, who talked about podcasting in schools. Then, in a room called the Jim Henson Studio, they learned to create podcasts using iMovie software. Soon, Mr. Mello was convinced.

“We went there with our eyes open but hesitant. What could be so compelling as to get us to move off our base? And they did it,” Mr. Mello said. What swayed him, he said, were the presentations but also the company’s bright new monitors: “We were looking at each other thinking, ‘Wow. I can’t believe these are available at this price point.’ ”

Since then the district has switched to Apple, giving 350 laptops to teachers in 2010 and, this fall, 450 iPads and computers to high school students. The price: $637,000.

Mr. Mello was joined on the trip by two principals, two assistant superintendents and a teacher. Apple paid for meals and a stay at the Inn at Saratoga, near the Apple campus, where rates run $189 for a single room that looks onto a tranquil creek. Airfare was not included. And the group did not let Apple pick up the drink tab at the hotel, Mr. Mello said, noting: “As a school district, we’re conscious of that sort of thing.”

Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a nonprofit watchdog group, said he did not believe the educators were violating state law. But he said the ethical issue seemed to be a gray area for public officials. “It’s acceptable business ethics,” he said. “It’s not good public ethics.”

For his part, Mr. Mello said he did not think the Apple perks had influenced him. But he said he believed that Apple, by inviting his district, which is relatively wealthy, was seeking to influence other Michigan schools. In fact, he said he was told as much by a senior sales executive during dinner at a Silicon Valley Latin American restaurant.

Craig Lassig for The New York Times
Curt Tryggestad, superintendent of Little Falls Community Schools, with the district's technology coordinator, Mark Diehl. Mr. Tryggestad visited Apple in Cupertino, Calif., in 2010 and this year, before the district spent $1.2 million on Apple products.
The executive even offered to throw in about $20,000 of wireless equipment, but the district declined because it already had other plans, Mr. Mello said.

Mr. Robinson and other watchdogs said state ethics rules were not uniform and varied widely. For instance, school officials in Nebraska, several of whom have visited Apple this year, are prohibited from accepting meals and hotels only if they agree to buy products in exchange, an overt quid pro quo that no one is suggesting is taking place.

In all, about 30 states have laws restricting gifts to state officials, laws that might invite scrutiny of Apple’s generosity, said Karen Hobert Flynn, vice president of state operations for Common Cause.

In Microsoft’s case, the company covers airfare, hotels and meals for participants in its events for teachers. It also invites administrators and school technology staff to regional meetings that aim to help them solve technical issues. Because those meetings include people who can be involved in purchasing computers and other gear, Microsoft does not pay for travel or hotels.

And in the case of both the teacher meetings and the technical briefings, Microsoft requires that attendees bring a letter certifying that if they accept meals or any other perks, they will not be violating local, state or federal ethics laws, according to Kevin Hartley, associate general counsel at the company.

There is sensitivity about these issues on the educators’ side as well. In September, a group of state officials and educators in Idaho canceled a trip to Microsoft because they worried it might appear as if the trip had unfairly influenced any eventual purchase of Microsoft products.

Mr. Tryggestad from Little Falls said that Apple did not push him to take anything that would violate state law, and that he did not think he or anyone in the district had done so.

When he went on his first visit to Apple in 2010, Mr. Tryggestad was joined by about a dozen other Minnesota superintendents. On his second visit this February, the group spent an afternoon at Stanford University talking to students and faculty who were experimenting with educational uses of technology.

In March, the district technology director visited Apple in a group that included his counterparts from schools in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. Less than a month later, the Little Falls school board approved the big iPad purchase.

At the time the district was curious to see how students’ test scores would be affected by the use of the new devices, but the test results from one school’s pilot project last year would not be available for months. And the district decided not to wait, Mr. Tryggestad said, given the enthusiasm for the device among students and teachers.

Mr. Tryggestad said he believed Apple invited him to its campus (and also to larger education meetings in Dallas and Chicago) because he had some influence. He sits on the board of the Minnesota Rural Education Association, a lobbying group, and is on a state advisory committee for online learning.

“Maybe they looked at me as being a conduit,” he said.