Special Report


May 03, 2005 1 min read

By September 2005, Maine hopes to reach its goal of giving every 9th grader in the state a laptop computer, state officials say.

As part of its Maine Learning Technology Initiative, the state already has provided its middle schools with 34,000 Apple iBooks—one for every 7th and 8th grader, as well as their teachers. Now, Maine is equipping the 9th grade, having so far issued laptops to freshmen and teachers in one-third of its public high schools.

Maine hatched the program in 2002, aiming to give students one-to-one access to computers. State money paid for the middle school laptops, which were delivered by Apple Computer Inc. in 2002 and 2003 as part of a $37 million contract with the company. Funding for the 9th grade laptops—through an additional $6 million contract with Apple—has so far come from a variety of sources, including state, federal, local, and private money, says Tony Sprague, the project manager for the Maine Learning Technology Initiative.

Depending on how budget deliberations go, the state will extend the laptop program to the entire 9th grade in the 2005-06 school year, Sprague says, and outfit additional grades in subsequent years.

Districts decide how students use the laptops and whether they can take them home, says Bette J. Manchester, the director of special projects for the Maine Department of Education. In many cases, Manchester says, they use the computers to work on collaborative projects with students from other parts of the state, the country, and even the world.

The laptops also make online testing possible. In spring 2005, districts can choose to have 8th graders take the state writing assessment online—the second year they have had that option, Sprague says.

Meanwhile, distance learning is holding steady, with 91 schools participating in the Maine Distance Learning Project. The project allows high school and technical school students to take Advanced Placement, foreign-language, and math and science courses that might be unavailable in their home schools. The state helps pay for the program, which uses videoconferencing technology to deliver the courses. It costs about $1 million a year to run, says Steve Vose, the state education department’s instructional technologist.