Dougherty School System technology initiative a good investment

ALBANY HERALD EDITORIAL: The One-to-One T.I. program will get Dougherty students prepared for the future

The decision of the Dougherty County School System to begin implementing its ambitious One-to-One Technology Initiative has created quite a bit of discussion, particularly when the project comes with a $14.6 million price tag.

A number of question have arisen, such as how secure the equipment will be, whether the project could have been done cheaper, whether it will impact property taxes, and whether it will have enough benefit to justify the costs. All are legitimate inquiries. We posed those questions — and others — and learned quite a bit more about the project.

The system evaluated three systems — Dell, HP and Lenovo — before opting to go with Dell, a decision that was made on the basis of performance, existing relationships, experiences with other products and Dell’s inclusion on the state contract. Why not go for a cheaper tablet at a discount store? While the initial investment would be less, Dell also provides support, software setup, insurance and replacement provisions that you wouldn’t get at a big-box store.

The implementation also moves the system toward an inevitability — technology-based curriculum and instruction. That is something we expect to see throughout the nation in a relatively short period of time. The state’s new evaluation system for school districts requires that Dougherty County be ready for all-electronic assessments within five years. Dr. Ufot Inyang, the system curriculum director, expects Dougherty to be ready for the all-electronic curriculum and instruction in three to five years.

We know that technology advances quickly these days, which means these tablets and laptops will have to be replaced at some point. System officials expect a three-year useful lifespan on each unit and has established a five-year “technology refresh” plan.

Curriculum staff leadership will decide which applications will be included on the machines, and those will be able to be “pushed” onto the units through mobile device management. Instruction and student engagement will be emphasized and downloads will be limited for content and use by tech staff. Students and teachers will not have administrative permissions on their laptops and tablets, which means they will not be able to install questionable programs and applications. Website blocking protocols will follow national standards for education.

There is no anticipated information technology staff expansions during the phase-in period of the program. The devices will need wi-fi connections to work, and each will be monitored continuously. Officials say if a user manages to get an inappropriate app installed on a device, each can be wiped clean remotely. Software can be re-installed and updated remotely as well. The current plan is to “clean” each device at the end of each school year so they will be ready for the next year.

Outside of the overall cost, which is being paid for through special-purpose local-option sales tax dollars, the biggest criticism we have heard is the possibility of theft of the equipment. School system officials say they don’t want to give out detailed information on how they’ll guard against theft and misuse — much as a homeowner would not want to show a burglar where the family valuables were being secured — but said the system will include proprietary technology that they describe as “an industry-leading device and data security solution offered to K-12 agencies.” The company being employed, they say, has recovered 30,000 devices in 120 countries.

“The technology offers persistent, tamper-proof device tracking and theft recovery,” officials said. “In the event of theft, the district will notify law enforcement and prosecute offenders. There is a complete insurance program that is procured with the devices.”

The size of this project, which will be implemented in two phases, understandably has residents concerned. After all, after buildings, this is the largest single expenditure the school system has dealt with. From what we can assess, however, the project has been well thought out and the approach being taken is well reasoned. It’s a big investment, but it also is an opportunity to move the school system’s students ahead in direction in which all U.S. students eventually will go. We think the system is doing the right thing by making this major investment in our students, and we are hopeful that they — and our county and region — will greatly benefit.

— The Albany Herald Editorial Board