Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events


Posted by David Keelan on Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Talbot County, Maryland instituted a laptop computer program for its incoming Highschool freshman. In doing so they contracted with the Johns Hopkins University Center for Technology in Education to act as an external evaluator of the 1 to 1 Laptop program.

The Star Democrat (the local Easton paper) endorsed the program saying citing 450 school systems across the country that have implemented similiar programs:

The Talbot County Council considers an issue today that is important now and for the future of the county’s public school students and for the future growth and development of the county’s workforce.

On October 24th the AP and The Star Democrat (calling the results “extraordinary”) reported the following:

EASTON, Md. (AP) – Talbot County’s program giving laptop computers to all high schoolers got high marks from a recent Johns Hopkins University study.

The school system’s 1 to 1 Laptop Initiative put the computers in the hands of all ninth-graders.

According to Lynne Harper Mainzer, head of the university’s Center for Technology in Education, the ninth-grade laptop students had “significantly higher” scores on the algebra portion of the High School Assessments.

The 480 laptop students also scored “significantly higher” than the non-laptop class of 2008 students in their algebra I classes, Mainzer said.

Ninety-three percent of the students rated their computer skills as intermediate or higher. From the mid-year review to the year-end evaluation, there was a 25-percent increase in the number of students who rated their skills at the expert level, The (Easton) Star Democrat reported.

The Star Democrat reported some sample quotes from teachers regarding student use of the laptops:

    • “Students are more involved in class.”
    • “Instant feedback in algebra has increased student performance.”
    • “More interest in the topic and desire to further study on their own at home.”

Parents also have noticed a difference, according to responses to a survey:

    • “I see her using the computer doing things she didn’t know how to do.”
    • “He was able to catch on to work that he was having trouble with. He didn’t mind reading things on the computer, and he hated to read.”

Students are using the laptops for writing, taking notes, completing homework assignments, keeping organized, communicating with classmates and teachers, and researching on the Internet.

I post this knowing that there are some concerns about Chris Merdon’s proposal to provide laptops as part of his committment to education and making Howard County the best school system in the nation.


18 Responses to “Laptops”

  1. Numbersgirl said

    And what is the median income for Talbot County vs. Howard County? Would these students have otherwise have access to a computer?

    Will Chris Merdon be handing out laptops to the families who buy their 16 year olds brand new H3s to drive to school? Or will these laptops only go to those who would not otherwise have access to a computer?

    Perhaps a better plan would be to require laptops, just as teachers currently require 3 ring binders and pencils. If the students fall into a certain income level, they may apply to have a laptop provided to them.

    But giving out laptops to all students of one of the wealthiest counties in the nation is poor budget management.

  2. Cory said

    I think the idea has merit and is worth more research. However, there are some problems that jump out at me. I agree with Numbersgirl that giving laptops to students driving new luxury cars to school isn’t a good use of taxpayers money. I agree with her idea that a threshold should exist for qualifying for a free laptop. Between them being ‘lost’, broken, damaged, etc I’d bet at least half of those laptops would not make it through 4 years of high school intact. How do we handle those kids? Do they then suffer without one? If not, how much more will it cost to replace them?

    That being said, the idea of getting technology in all the kids hands can surely have benefits as Talbot County has seen. IMHO, the plan could use some tweaking but has promise.

  3. Freemarket said

    Who recommended to Merdon that laptops be purchased for ninth graders? What kind of cost-benefit analysis was done? This is a massive expense to incur on the basis of a sample of 450 students in a single county. Did Merdon come up with this idea on his own? I ask this because I don’t think Merdon has the credentials to be making decisions about how to spend money for education. Also, he has not specified where this money is coming from. If he is not raising taxes, he must be planning to cut something significant to pay for these laptops.

    These same questions could be raised about the middle school sports programs as well.

  4. hocomd said

    Talbot charges $50.00 for insurance to each student that uses a school system laptop instead of their own.

  5. unaffiliated said

    Hmm…If I were a student driving an H3, chances are, I’m not going to care if I’m given a laptop because I will want an even BETTER one, and chances are, I would be granted that wish.

    If you watch the press conference on Mr. Merdon’s website and read the information on the laptop/STEM initiative carefully you will see that, yes, this is to provide access to the less priviledged students. It was brought about both by research and taking notice that there are students who go to an afterschool program for tutoring, et al, and they give their after school teacher their assignment, and she takes it home and does the internet search FOR them since they don’t have the ability to do the research themselves. It will begin with freshmen so as to grandfather the process in. This is done at the collegiate level (I witnessed it myself when my college decided to make the dorms “smoke free”)and is entirely logical – let’s remember the old adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”.

    As far as improper handling and misuse, it is blatantly answered for you in the above mentioned materials as well, it will then be up to the student and their family to make amends.

  6. Numbersgirl said

    I read on Merdon’s website that “they will secure funding for new laptops for every freshman entering High School.” Only the computers for sophomores, juniors, and seniors will be for income-qualified students.

    So he is still wanting to provide laptops for EVERY freshman.

    Did he correct his plan elsewhere? As I said, this was from his website.

  7. hocomd said

    Why doesn’t anyone want to discuss the merits of what Talbot County reported? If the proposal needs to be tweaked then I am sure Merdon will tweak it. He is open minded enough to take additional input. It is a proposal based on the benefits of laptops in students hands.

    Believe me I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of spending $3M on this either. In the end I think it will be fleshed out and acceptable to most people.

    Are any benefits derived by doing so?

  8. unaffiliated said

    I also included to watch the press conference. Perhaps it isn’t explicitly said, but Numbersgirl, I know you’re smart – read between the lines. The context of everything said, especially during the press conference, is that this is meant to aide those that need it, in order to compete with those that already have it in close proximity – namely – their bedrooms…

    Are people so anti new ideas, especially those from a Republican, that they won’t weigh the value of what is being proposed and flesh out the options? It seems to me that I am simply encountering people so bloodthirsty to stomp Mr. Merdon for taking initiative that they don’t look at the actual good that can come of it.

    David is right. Let’s look at the case studies and see that even in wealthy counties (where, God forbid, there are not so wealthy areas) these initiatives have thrived.

  9. Steve Fine said

    Interesting, I was against the idea. And one of the first posts on my new blog expressed my concerns about this proposal. But this makes me think. I am curious about the research methodology used. There must be other studies out there as well.

  10. Numbersgirl said

    I’d rather believe what the guy put in writing, as a proposal, on his candidacy website, than “read between the lines” and translate the “context” of a verbal statement.

    I am not against new ideas. I am against ideas that will spend money where it is not needed. The laptop idea could be a good one, as long as it is only targeted towards those who would otherwise be unable to buy one.

    It seems to me that the “bloodthirsty” ones are those who “stomp” people who question Mr. Merdon or any of his ideas.

  11. MBT said

    Freemarket – Merdon’s proposal was co-authored by the current Board of Education Chairman, Joshua Kaufman.

    The link to Merdon’s site:

  12. Freemarket said

    Re: “Are people so anti new ideas, especially those from a Republican, that they won’t weigh the value of what is being proposed and flesh out the options? It seems to me that I am simply encountering people so bloodthirsty to stomp Mr. Merdon for taking initiative that they don’t look at the actual good that can come of it.”

    Restating what Hayduke said yesterday, can’t we have a discussion about anything based on its merits without resorting to partisan attacks? This is a major expense we are talking about. Do you have a problem, “Unaffiliated” one, with people asking for clarification as to how these laptops will be and paid for and allocated amongst students? Do you have a problem with people questioning if this is the best use of the money? This idea may have merit, but it is certainly not beyond all criticism. This idea could be a great, or a costly disaster.

  13. Freemarket said

    There are about 4,426 ninth graders in HoCo high schools, according to the below link. Merdon estimates the cost of this program to be $4 million dollars to buy 3,500 laptops, which sounds reasonable to buy a low-end laptop with Linux and Open Office for everyone, assuming 1,000 kids will already have a laptop or opt for mom and dad to get them a better one than the school provides. Here is the part that concerns me: he wants to eliminate textbooks which will save $3 million (I guess we spend $666 per student for textbooks and we are still “behind the curve” as Merdon says). Did Talbot County eliminate textbooks? Regardless, that means software will have to be purchased for each subject to replace the textbooks, doesn’t it? Or are we relying on Wikipedia or some other free website? So the $3 million dollar textbook savings appears to be out the window. How is this being paid for? And what thought has been given as to what educational software is being installed on the laptops? And where is the cost-benefit analysis, didn’t they do one for a $4 million dollar expense?

  14. Tom Berkhouse said

    I think the dissenters forgot to consider that computer companies, or maybe even some wealth philanthropist (maybe even Bill Gates) may DONATE some of the laptops. And, what is 3 million dollars when it comes to the education and future possibilities for our children.

    Numbersgirl, I must say that it does seem that anytime a Republican proposes any program related to education (or the environment) there is mass hysteria from Democrats since those “issues” have somehow been stereotyped as being “democrat” issues (issues they are stronger on). Lord knows the Democrats don’t like Republicans cutting in on their turf since they have not other issues to run on:)

    If you want to be upset about poor budgeting, go ask Ulman and Robey and Guzzone how many infrastructure improvements developers were supposed to construct but got picked up by the County, at taxpayer expense. I don’t even want to know what the cost of their handouts has been. Look at how many handouts are promised to GGP for the Town Center “development plan”. SHA and the County have already been planning reconstruction of Route 175 and the waste water treatment facilities.

    I don’t mind your asking about the expenditure of the 3 million dollars, but at least critique ALL of the County officials equally.

  15. hocomd said


    I believe the thought was that text books stick around for a minimum of three years. Some historty texts are 5 years old.

    There are a number of web based services for all subject areas that provide their services on a fee basis. Many educational software packages are available too.

    Additionally, many newspapers offer teaching curriculm around their web content. Partnerships with local corporations who produce a great deal of web content for employee training could be made available.

    I will have a follow up post on this.

    The point is to begin replacing our school texts with etexts that are updated on a much more frequent basis.

    Licenses for these packages may likely save the HCPSS money.

    This has been a school district in which everyone has been proud of and not afraid to spend money on in order to improve preformance and give our kids a better chance.  What has changed?

  16. Freemarket said

    “This has been a school district in which everyone has been proud of and not afraid to spend money on in order to improve performance and give our kids a better chance. What has changed?”

    Part of the problem, in my view, is that this appears to me to be election year garbage. What kind of analysis was done by Merdon and Kaufman prior to putting out the press release? How many bids did they get from computer vendors? What kind of software have they looked at? It might be a great idea, but they do not appear to have a well thought out plan to implement it, including securing the funding. A $4 million project is not something you manage by the seat of your pants. As things stand right now, we are being asked to get on board with this plan based on blind faith.

    Tom Berkhouse- how many wealthy philanthropists do you think are going to be interested in donating laptop computers to one of the wealthiest counties in the nation? I would be willing to bet there are schools in Louisiana devastated by Katrina that don’t have desktop computers in the library. Please tell me part of the “plan” does not rely on Santa Clause.

  17. Fran said

    Keep in mind that 9th-graders do not drive to school. So they can’t drive luxury cars…

  18. Di Zou said

    I think this idea will not be as big a benefit for our kids as people think it will be. The idea seems nice, but it will not be very effective. Besides the high cost of the laptops, we still need to spend money for providing technical support unless students are solely responsible for the computers. If we cannot get the SMS software to work properly or provide adequate tech support for already existing computers, how are we going to be able to provide tech support for 3500 additional laptops?
    The main problem is I do not see any way that freshmen would need to use laptops during class. During high school, there was never an occasion where I had to use a laptop during class. The laptops also are a huge distraction during class. In class here at UMCP, I see many students with laptops during class, and most of them do not pay attention to the professor. They surf the web or play video games on their laptops during class, and these students are 18-20 years old! I do not see how 9th graders will not be distracted during class with these laptops.

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