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An Apple for the student
Some schools are handing out laptops to every student, giving a boost to Apple.
September 6, 2005: 5:45 PM EDT
By Amanda Cantrell, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - "The dog ate my homework," the time-worn classic of student excuses, won't fly in the paperless age.

That's what students in a handful of high schools around the country are learning as some cutting-edge classrooms are moving to issue laptops to each and every student, giving a boost to Apple's long-sinking share in the K-12 educational market.

One school, Empire High School in Vail, Ariz., opted to scrap textbooks all together and issue laptops instead. It's participating in a program called "1 to 1 Learning," launched by Apple to get schools to issue laptops to students. Participating schools can buy iBook notebook computers at the wholesale price, and representatives from Apple will work with schools to help them implement the program.

Giving kids laptops has not only caused dramatic changes in the way kids learn -- some analysts say it has also given a boost to Apple's long-sinking share in the K-12 educational market. Apple dominated this category for years, but rival Dell climbed to the top in recent years.

Technology research firm IDC pegs Apple's share of the education market at 14 percent, compared with 44 percent for Dell.

Charlie Wolf, an analyst at Needham & Company, who owns shares of both Apple and Dell, said he thinks the company has probably been able to shore up some of its losses in the K-12 markets because of its recent success in getting school districts to purchase iBooks.

Wolf said Apple was number one in the K-12 market for a long time, because the company entered the market first.

But the company lost ground over time, in part because its products were priced higher than Windows-based PCs, and because computer purchasing moved from the individual schools up to entire districts, which were biased toward Windows machines because of Windows' dominance in the workplace market, according to Wolf.

That may be changing, given Apple's success in getting entire school districts to buy iBooks. Wolf said Apple can expect to reap more rewards in this arena as schools move away from desktop computers and toward laptops.

But do they work?

Apple may have also struck a nerve at just the right time, as educators nationwide have bemoaned the pitiful test scores of American students as compared with their peers around the world.

According to the most recent results from the Program for International Student Assessment, a survey administered every three years to 15-year-olds to see how well they solve math problems, students in the U.S. ranked 20th out of 29 participating countries in the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, a Paris-based organization advocating democracy and free markets.

Apple claims that school districts employing individual laptops have seen rising test scores as a result, but some education experts are skeptical that laptops make learning better.

Since his school ditched textbooks in favor of laptops, Calvin Baker, superintendent of the Vail Unified School District, said parents have reported their kids are becoming more interested in their homework, and that the education process has become more interactive.

"One mother said that at 8 p.m. in her kitchen, she watched her son have a spirited exchange (online) with his classmates over the content of their homework -- those things just can't happen with paper and pencil," Baker said.

But some education experts say the jury is still out on whether individual laptops actually improve the education process.

"We are spending huge sums of money on computers as if this is what's going to save American education," said Joan Almon, coordinator for the Alliance for Childhood, a Maryland-based advocacy group focusing on what it believes to be the overall decline in children's health and well being.

Almon pointed to recent research demonstrating that on a standardized test, students who did not use computers at all fared worse -- but so did students who reported using computers heavily.

Hefty price tag also a problem

Almon said her group is also concerned that one-to-one programs deplete funding for other important educational experiences.

Indeed, these programs do come with a hefty price tag. In addition to the machines themselves, it takes time and money to educate teachers on how to use the new technology and design computer-based lesson plans.

For their part, pro-laptop educators acknowledged that giving every student a computer is not a panacea for a broken school system.

"You can't just pass out laptops and expect them to change education," said Beachwood's Bernetich. "It doesn't work that way. Teachers had to become familiar with how to integrate technology into classrooms."  Top of page

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