Monday, May 13, 2013

From Apple to HP in Maine

I have moved back and forth between the Apple and PC platforms regularly, both for home and for school use. I don't see platform as a big issue.  Yet my teeth grated when two weeks ago Maine's governor Paul LePage announced that the 1:1 contract that has been placing Apple devices (laptops and iPads) in the hands of students for 10 years is basically defunct.  A new contract has been awarded to HP for as-yet-to-be-announced (for absolute certain) laptops and tablets.

  • HP's bid was lower by about $33 per seat per year for laptops 
  • According to the governor, the PC is the tool our students must use because it is what they will "see and use in the workplace"
  • HP convinced the governor that the PC is the tool our students must use because it is what they will see and use in the workplace
  • An Apple tool is an elitist tool which most students will not encounter in "real adult life"
[update 4/14/13]  Since this post, the governor and his DOE commissioner have worked hard to sell the concept of choice.  In today's announcement of the purchasing decisions made by Maine's schools, the following data is given:
"This fall, 39,457 students and educators will start using Apple’s iPad tablet ($266 per year, per seat with network), followed by 24,128 using Apple’s MacBook Air laptop ($319 per year, per seat with network) and 5,474 using the HP ProBook 4440 laptop which runs Microsoft Windows 7 ($286 per year, per seat with network)...
Teachers in schools that went with Apple’s iPad will additionally receive a MacBook Air to use over the four-year contract..."

It seems that the vast majority of Maine's schools have rejected the HP choice, made because "Governor Paul R. LePage and Department of Education leaders wanted to ensure schools had options, including equipping students with the PC and Microsoft technology they are most likely to find in the workplace." (source).  Perhaps this is because of the arguments I made, and still make, against the switch:]

- The cost of retraining Maine's teachers and IT personnel was not part of the announcement. 
- The cost of replacing/re-contracting for apps successfully used in Maine's classrooms was not part of the announcement. (But today, coincidentally, there is an announcement that Google is launching an Android app store, Google Play for Education, so it will be easy to spend the money districts don't have for apps.  Considering that the announcement contained this sentence, "And, as long as each student has their own Google account, teachers can deploy their app selections to the tablets for an entire class or grade from their own account",  it might not be as easy to use as the announcement announces.)
- The cost of replacing Apple machines and apps purchased for district and school administrative use was not part of the announcement.
- The cost in time of (some) IT staff for reinstalling/reconfiguring server-side software was not part of the announcement.
- The cost of virus and malware prevention/detection/management apps and implementation was not part of the announcement (yes, I know few viruses are written for Macs...).
- The cost of new laptop cases/tablet covers (as needed) was not part of the announcement (it may be part of the contract, I don't know).
- The cost in time for transfer of student portfolio and teacher instructional materials from OSX or iOS-specific file formats to Windows 8 (or 7 - this has just changed and may change again) document formats was not part of the announcement (for schools not using Office for Mac).
- The cost to teachers in time lost for addressing the important areas of curricular expansion and adjustment due to new CCSS and Next Generation Science Standards was not part of the announcement.
- The additional cost to low-performing (D or F) schools and their districts, already shouldering higher budget demands in the name of test score improvement, was not part of the announcement.
- The cost to parents replacing Apple devices purchased for home with PC devices - was not part of the announcement. 

The additional cost to districts and schools wishing to maintain the Apple platform as a choice was part of the announcement.  This could range from relatively small to the equivalent of a teaching position, or more.

Districts will come out even or lose, depending on local vote, which might be by the school board or town meeting.  Most will lose economically.   Or make changes in the classrooms that will directly impact student learning and educational programs.

MacDaily News had this to say: 
"Only iPad has a meaningful library of apps. Only iPad can access school textbooks via iBookstore created by iBooks Author. Only Mac can run iBooks Author. In fact, only Apple Mac can run all of the world’s OSes and software. Only Mac. Only iPad."
(Read more at ")

The most important points to be made about this decision (as of today, a done-deal) are these:
  • Industry does not widely use the buggy Windows 8 (probably the reason HP switched the offer to Windows 7 after the Maine announcement).
  • By the time a Maine 7th grader is "in the workplace" - let's assume he/she has at least 1 year of post-secondary education or training - no operating system will look like Windows 7 (or 8) and no laptop PC (if they even exist) will look like the HP ProBook 4400.  
  • Maine is, also according to the governor, concerned that not enough HS graduates complete secondary education before entering the workplace.  This adds 2 - 4+ more years of technological change between graduation and workplace.  
  • The academic world of today (post k-12 even in Maine) is platform independent.  Need a PC to study science?  We got it covered.
  • Not all work is STEM-centered or business-centered.  Even assuming that the PC platform is currently more visible in these arenas, a significant portion of Maine's graduates will enter the arts and humanities, and small or home business arenas, where Apple is a top player because it is reliable and family-friendly.  Maybe Maine's governor does not care about these kids -> adults, but I do.  
  • Kids are not workers - they are kids.  Apple products are, at this time, more consistent, secure, and app-rich (educationally speaking -> engaging) than the competition.  This is not elitism - it is the truth that comes from my long years of experience with both platforms in the classroom, with my adult children, and with grandchildren.  
  • Apple and Maine together have created a digital environment that supports k-12 learning.  Undoing this in order to meet the questionable needs of a workplace future is just plain short-sighted.  HP does not [I can not tell you my source, but he/she is highly placed] have a great track record with follow-through or quality control in this arena.
  • Even in today's workplace, most used-for-work apps and software are proprietary - tweaked  or designed for the specific use in the specific industry.  Think auto mechanics. Think hair dressers.  Think Maine government. Think industrial engineering. Think medicine.  Think food-supply inventory.  Think payroll.  Think Best Buy and AT&T geeks. Think office cubicle. Think your local graphic artist or writer. Think lobsterman.  Kids need to learn to be adaptable and creative with apps - hardware platform does not matter.  (This is not an argument for change when the total cost-of-change is considered).  From my point of view, today's most creative and creation-making apps (that are not web-based) are iPad or Apple apps.
  • iTunes is not supported in the Windows 8 environment.  What will happen to music and podcast libraries as the HP contract goes forward?  Oh - unless HP for ME stalls out at Windows 7.
On the other hand, I know that PCs are powerful tools.  Access is so much fun that I used to play with it every day (sorry - it is not in the basic Office plan for Maine's schools).  Numbers does not hold a candle to Excel.  Hacking Windows is really fun for hackers.  Powerpoint is used to be more powerful than Keynote, and it is used to be ubiquitous in the educational and business worlds.   Many programming language compilers are built only for the Windows platform.  The new Smarter Balanced digital tests are designed to run better on PCs.  I don't know specifically about Windows 7 or 8 (except what I read), but app integration on PC laptops has always been good on the PCs I have used and taught with. That's a plus. Same for the quality of graphical and video apps.  OK for kids at least, even though all of the pros I know use Macs (shouldn't our artistic, musical and publication creating kids be using Apple tools?).  And viruses can definitely be contained if users are vigilant (and the right apps are installed and updated on all machines and on the new servers).  

My take on this?  Maine can be forward-thinking, save money, and get more bang for the buck in the long run by addressing a few specific weaknesses in the HP-exclusive k-12 contract.  For example:
  • Invest in successful curricula and programs by using contract savings to support requests for desktop and laptop Apple hardware and apps, and mobile devices and apps, that teachers want because they will be used in classrooms and have no equal in the Windows environment.  The state should not be open to accusations of limiting educational growth on the student level.  Especially not in the arts.
  • Put state money into giving educational IT staff complete training in both platforms (including licensed repair of PC and Apple machines).  This will prepare the state for a platform-independent system by the time the next contract rolls around.
  • Design MLTI and DOE training sessions with three and only three goals.  Let all other app-specific PD be handled by in-house and local discipline-specific workshops (e.g. transitioning from iMovie or Keynote, from Numbers to Excel).  My big three goals for MLTI:
    • Teacher comfort and expertise in Google for Education apps and extensions/add-ons
    • Teacher comfort and expertise with web-based apps that support the new CCSS goals (the 4 C's, textual analysis, communication of mathematical thinking, authentic publishing)
    • Teacher comfort and expertise with management of cloud storage for educational use (Google Drive and Dropbox would be my choices, but there are many others).
  • ... can't think of another good idea.
End of rant.  If you want to visit the dichotomous, often vitriolic, environment this decision has spawned, visit As Maine Goes.  Let's hope "so goes the Nation" is a NOT.  

My next post will cross-evaluate the most highly evaluated apps for education.

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