Friendship Public Charter School recently faced an information technology challenge, explained Damon Metz, the school’s Chief Technology Officer, not too dissimilar from that being experienced by many educational institutions across the country. Administrators wanted to be able to provide computers to their student body but the high cost of frequent laptop replacement was unsustainable. So, Mr. Metz revealed, they looked around at best practices. It was the KIPP network that tipped them off to a solution.
“We decided to provide our students with Chromebooks,” which the CTO stated is Google’s answer to the personal computer. According to Mr. Metz the devices look like a laptop, weigh about 2.5 pounds, and have a 10 inch monitor. In addition, he indicated that the keyboards on the units are good for both adults and students as they are slightly smaller than the traditional size. The price, at about $270 a piece, also makes them an affordable option, the Friendship CTO asserted.
“We studied the reasons that students take advantage of information technology and discovered that it is mostly to be able to surf the web,” Mr. Metz said. “These units are great at that function and they are easy to operate.” The CTO remarked that the Chromebooks take two minutes to deploy and eight seconds to boot up.
I was extremely fortunate to be able to spend some time recently with Mr. Metz. He spoke to me in a warm manner demonstrating his extremely deliberate use of words and sentences, a fact that most likely mirrors his ability to make wise decisions in the fast-paced field of technological innovations.
“The overriding goal of the employment of computers at Friendship is to drive academic achievement,” Mr. Metz related. He described the school leadership’s four aims that they were trying to achieve through the implementation of this new technology. First, he said, Friendship administers MAP testing three times a year to its students. He clarified that the MAP is an internal assessment tool the network of charters uses to measure student achievement in addition to the DC CAS. He stated that the test is administered on computers.
He revealed that computers are also relied upon for students to take advantage of Compass Learning, software designed for credit recovery for those pupils not at grade level academically. Mr. Metz informed me that Compass evaluates student knowledge and creates curriculum necessary to bring them up to the appropriate level.
Another vital justification for the need for computers is to support the school’s curriculum. Friendship uses HMH, and all of the material from its textbooks can be found online, Mr. Metz stated.
Finally, the Chromebooks are an aid, according to Mr. Metz, to teach students twenty-first century skills, such as those tested on the upcoming Common Core standardized examination. He explained that the Common Core will evaluate a student’s ability to surf the web, create and edit files, and even looks at the ability to modify videos.
It became clear to me that information technology forms the bond linking each component of Friendship’s academic program. HMH provides the fundamental pedagogical curriculum, the MAP examinations test student achievement levels, and Compass aids in improving knowledge in areas of weakness.
Friendship Public Charter Schools piloted the Chromebooks beginning last April. The CTO exclaimed that the feedback has been extremely positive among both the faculty and students. They are going live with the conversion to this technology in a couple of weeks.
Mr. Metz related how the program will be structured. “This year fifth through twelfth graders will share Chromebooks with a two student to one device ratio. Our goal for next year is to provide each student with a computer. Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten classes will receive the desktop version of Chromebook. Through the Chromebook students will have access to Gmail, Google Drive, which provides software similar to Microsoft Office, and a folder with fifteen gigabits of memory.
I asked Mr. Metz if students will be permitted to take the portable Chromebooks home. “No, unfortunately not,” he replied. “With our student population individuals possessing expensive technology often become targets for crime.”
Mr. Metz indicated that Friendship has invested over $540,000 in the Chromebooks program, money the school has obtained through grants and its own reserve funds.