Laptops are Not the Answer!

I woke up at 3:30 this morning. It’s not uncommon when I’m delivering a keynote address that day. It’s partly nervousness. It’s possible that this morning had more to do with the chocolate cake that I ordered last night, resting on a trio of chocolaty truffle’s. Allow me to pause for just a moment over that sweet memory!


I’m certain though, that it had more to do with the fury that I woke up with, when it finally dawned on me what the librarians I had dinner with last night told me. They are laying off librarians in Michigan, and BUYING LAPTOPS!

Josephine Kirkbride is the one and only librarian for her school district. Maybe it’s that I come from a state with laws that mandate a professional librarian (graduate degree) in every school that makes this seem so outrageous to me. But you’ve heard me say it before. It’s not the technology, it’s the information. It’s not the laptop skills, it’s the information skills. Angus King, the former governor of Maine will tell you, “You don’t put laptops in children’s hands to improve test scores. ” There are better reasons. Yet Michigan is starting its 1:1 initiative with their 100 lowest performing school districts. Research after research after research shows that professional librarians correlate with higher student achievement (see below).

I would rather see the state invest in its future buy putting a professional librarian in each library than buy laptops for every child. They desperately need both. I could even make a case for getting rid of the library’s. But not the librarians!

Our students need to learn to teach themselves, not how to be taught. ..and this requires that they become skilled information artisans, able to effectively and responsibly access, use, and express new ideas and build new knowledge within the context of their history, their environment, their society and future. Anything less, is just preparing them for the 1950s.

  • Lance: The role of the librarian correlates with student achievement (1993)
  • Krashen: Higher reading scores for students with professional librarians (1993)
  • International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Attainment: Pupils in schools with a professional librarian attain higher reading scores (1992)
  • Philadelphia / Offenberg and Clark: Library Power results in higher SAT-9 scores in reading

Gniewek, Debra. “School Library Programs and Student Achievement: A Review of the Research.” Library Programs and Services. 12 Aug 2001. School District of Philadelphia. 26 Oct 2006 <>.

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12 thoughts on “Laptops are Not the Answer!”

  1. You’re my hero! Bravo! Well said.

    I’m wondering–I’d really like to use Class Blogmeister with a group of fifth grade teachers, but I don’t have a required code. Could you contact me with information about it (along with a code?)

  2. I couldn’t agree more. It is initiatives like the one you described in Michigan that give us educational technology advocates a bad name! We need librarians/media coordinators now more than ever to help teachers and students locate and evaluate the huge amounts of information that technology is making more available to us. Laura B. Fogle

  3. I happened to be engaged in a conversation with several of my colleagues a couple of weeks ago when one of them (I can’t recall right now exactly who it was) made an astute observation which I have been chewing on since.

    The 1962 movie The Music Man told the story of a con artist who went into a town and persuaded the locals to fork over their cash and he, in turn, would supply musical instruments and teach their children to play. In the end he is exposed, reforms and does indeed teach the town to play by focusing their efforts on forming and playing in a band. In the end, it wasn’t about the mechanics of playing an instrument that made people successful as musicians, it was about their collective vision of making music together that made musicians out of individuals.

    There is an analogy here with what we do as educators. It is not about the technology. We can teach the mechanics of using the technology all we want, but learners (students and teachers alike) will never become natives without a reason to learn. Technology has no real reward in and of itself, but is only valuable within the context of authentic communication. This is especially true in our classrooms.

    We need to place more focus on giving our students a reason and opportunity to use the technology. They will figure out – like motivated learners always seem to do – how to use it!

    Our only question now should be what kind of music we want to play together – the instruments will take care of themselves.

  4. Maybe replacing librarians with computers is a Midwestern phenomenon as I’ve been hearing this from school librarians in Illinois too. I love the analogy that Jeff Whipple made. And, his statement “We need to place more focus on giving our students a reason and opportunity to use the technology. They will figure out – like motivated learners always seem to do – how to use it!” is very accurate.

    We need to remember that these are young learners facing a world filled with information that they must be able not only to find and navigate, but be able to incorporate into their growing knowledge base and use to develop new thoughts and ideas. Automatons are not capable of doing that!

  5. It’s not just technology but the search for a magic answer that’s the problem. I worked in New York schools as a literacy consultant -from Australia – for 4 years and was shocked to see how librarians and libraries had diminished. To enter a middle school with 1600 students, one pathetic library with books that seem to be there since I was last in middle years in the early 1960’s, and a librarian who was given little support or credibility was frightening. In this case it was a shool in East New York, so I suppose those in power weren’t as concerned as they would be if it was a school in a leafy middle class district.

    Research clearly demonstrates the most important key in a student’s learning is the teacher. A real live human being in a classroom who can lead, support, encourage, enthuse, inspire, teach.

    I love Jeff Whipple’s analogy.

  6. David’s posting is misleading because the funding source for the Michigan 1:1 laptop initiative is not the same as that which pays for teachers’ salaries; one is federal/state money specifically dedicated to this initiative and the other is general fund (taxpayer) dollars. In other words, the money to purchase laptops can not be used to pay for staff positions!

    For further information and clarification, view my blog at

  7. I was surpised by David’s comments expressing a preference for media specialists/librarians over one to one personal/portable teaching and learning (aka ‘laptop’ initiatives) in schools. Why come at this as though it was a choice in deference of ‘stuff’ over ‘people’. It wasn’t. Freedom to Learn is an education initiative NOT a technology initiative.

    First, Michigan’s Freedom to Learn Program is a legislated program, federally and state funded. School employee positions (media specialists/librarians) are funded personnel decisions by a district’s school leaders. Michigan schools/districts ‘chose’ to apply for Freedom to Learn grant funds. Approximately 100 districts and 200 schools are ‘voluntarily’ part of the Freedom to Learn statewide community.

    Second, a majority (unscientifically stated) of Freedom to Learn sites have media specialists and librarians who are highly engaged and effectively implementing their one to one learning environments. These schools did not choose a one to one initiative over specific personnel positions. Nor did state leaders recommend they do so. In fact, we have developed collaborative relationships with statewide media specialists. The MIchigan eLibrary, MeL, was involved in the development of the Freedom to Learn professional development framework from the inception of the program. MeL’s Suzanne Robinson sat on our PD Core Team for the duration of that committee’s work. TMAME was represented on the commmittee as well. The media specialists’ engagement within this program has always been front and center.

    Third, education must embrace the imperative of robust technology integration. David frequently advises this in his talks. One to one personal/portable teaching and learning is one avenue in pursuit of that goal. There are others. Michigan chose this path (Freedom to Learn) to champion a number of educational, economic, achievement and access goals.

    That noted, as educators, we must hold as our goal to integrate and effectively connect education and technology programmatic advances. In this case, why not view Freedom to Learn through the lens of media specialists/librarians being leaders and implementers of these highly personal technology teaching and learning experiences? I can point you in the direction of many who would have much to share on topic. This is not an ‘either/or’ experience in Michigan. It is the for our students, theirs and our futures.

  8. I want to appologize for the sense that my post implied that this is an either/ or question. It most certainly is not. Preparing our chidren for their future requires a rich formula of actions, staffing, infrastructure an even imagination. I believe that we won’t be there until all children and teachers have convenient and deep access to digital networked information, and I heartedly comment all initiatives to provide that.

    My objection is to efforts, either explicit or by neglect, to factor that formula down to more simplistic terms. We should be willing to pay for it all, and celebrate thsat willingness…

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