Approximately one-fifth of adults in the United States are functionally illiterate, that is, they have difficulty performing simple tasks such as understanding bus schedules, reading maps, and filling out job applications. This estimate has not improved in the five years since the act was signed into law.
Even more unbelievable is the continued poor performance of U.S. students compared to their international counterparts. For example, in 2003, shortly after the NCLB was enacted, the United States ranked 28th among Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) member countries in mathematics proficiency. Unfortunately, three years and nearly 75 million dollars later, nothing much has changed-U.S. performance in mathematics remained “broadly unchanged” when the OECD repeated its survey in 2006.
A lack of resources does not seem to be the problem. The United States spends an estimated $10,000 per student per year. In some cities as much as 10 percent of that amount is associated with administration! A number of OECD countries ranked higher than the United States spend considerably less per student.
The NCLB budget for Fiscal Year 2007 is approximately $25 billion. That equates to about $500 per student based on the nearly 55 million students in primary and elementary schools.
What can you do with $500?
How can $500 per student make a difference? It can provide every elementary school student in the country with a laptop.
With a price tag moving toward $100 per machine per student, the total estimated cost is about six billion dollars-only 20 percent of the NCLB annual budget!
Initiatives to provide $100 laptops to children are already well under way in developing nations so why not in the United States? There are a number of school districts throughout the United States that are in desperate need of a new strategy. For example, the high school graduation rate in Detroit, the country’s 11th largest school district, is less than 25 percent.
What difference will laptops make?
Education can be parsed into three distinct and interconnected phases: content, delivery, and outcomes. The laptop serves to connect each of the phases.
First, laptops provide content that can be modified and updated quickly, while print text books are revised every few years at best.
Second, laptops provide content at a convenient time and place, whether it be in or outside the classroom.
Third, the student can be tested on a daily basis and the test records saved for subsequent analysis and content development.
The beauty of the laptop is that it offers each child a “customized” learning environment.
The Know-How is There
The United States already has extensive and growing experience in e-learning. According to a report from the Sloan Consortium, institutions of higher education reported 3.2 million students enrolled in online classes during the fall of 2005.
This marked an increase of more than 800,000 students and a growth rate of 35 percent from the previous year. The NCLB should use this experiential base and in effect “download” this capability to the primary and secondary levels.
A first step in this proposal is to conduct a number of pilot programs with select school districts throughout the country. Performance data can be collected and assessed to fine tune the roll-out of the laptop program on a nationwide basis.
To be productive, e-learning systems must be cost-effective, but developing e-learning material and content can be expensive. Cost estimates can range as high as $50,000 per hour of content delivery.
Obviously, this cost level could preclude many school districts from fully exploiting the fundamental advantages of e-learning. This is where rapid e-learning solutions can make a difference.
There are many definitions of rapid e-learning. In general, however, rapid e-learning can be viewed as the development and deployment of web-centric training content in a fast and cost-effective manner, often through the use of subject matter experts. The use of a rapid e-learning approach is particularly suited to educational development projects with budget limitations, critical timelines, and frequent updates.
By using proven developmental tools from the college level and adapting existing learning formats, content development times can be reduced from months to weeks along with a comparable reduction in costs.
We Live in a Digital World
It is our duty to provide the next generation with the tools to be successful in this increasingly digital-based global economy. A first step would be to conduct a number of pilot programs with select school districts throughout the country. Performance data would be collected and assessed to fine tune the roll-out of the laptop program on a nationwide basis.
Most of our children already live in a “click and go” world-a laptop per child program is a cost-effective way to use this training to their advantage and improve their educational experience. A laptop per child program is the best, most cost-effective way to fulfill this responsibility.
 U.S. Department of Education. No Child Left Behind Reauthorization, http://www.ed.gov/nclb/overview/intro/reauth/index.html.
 Lovetoread. Learning About Literacy, http://www.lovetoread.org/dev/literacy.html. (no longer accessible).
 Programme for International Student Assessment. “First Results from PISA 2003, Executive Summary,” Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/15/13/39725224.pdf, 8.
 Programme for International Student Assessment. “PISA 2006: Science Competencies for Tomorrow’s World, Executive Summary,” Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/1/63/34002454.pdf, 52-3.
 Educational CyberPlayGround Teachers Channel. Online Teacher and Educator Resources for K12 Teachers, Administrators & Parents, http://www.edu-cyberpg.com/Teachers/Home_Teachers.html.
 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, “Annex 2 – Reference Statistics,” Education at a Glance, http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/45/55/37370984.xls.
 U.S. Department of Education. Fiscal Year 2007 Budget Request Advances NCLB Implementation and Pinpoints Competitiveness, http://www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2006/02/02062006.html.
 One Laptop Per Child. Mission, http://laptop.org/en/vision/mission/.
 Patricia Hawke. “Dismal Drop-Out Rates for Detroit Schools,” Ezine Articles, http://ezinearticles.com/?Dismal-Drop-Out-Rates-for-Detroit-Schools&id=642244.
 I. Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman. “Making the Grade: Online Education in the United States, 2006,” The Sloan Consortium, http://www.sloan-c.org/publications/survey/pdf/making_the_grade.pdf.