Maine's iBook Program Gets Good Press

by , 11:00 AM EST, December 3rd, 2002

Governor Angus King, Maine's idealistic leader who proposed to give every Maine middle schooler an Apple laptop, must be feeling pretty good these days. Since implementing his plan to give Maine's economic future a boost by investing in education through the copious use of technology in the form of iBooks, many of the people who thought he was rowing with one oar have now come around to his way of thinking.

Governor King's "learning technology initiative" has attracted the attention of educators around the world; articles have appeared in newspapers from Alaska to Australia. In a recent article appearing in the Los Angeles Times, some early indications of whether the laptop program will have any real success in improving the education environment in Maine is being reported, and it looks good.

In the article Apple a Day Works in Maine Elizabeth Mehren of the L.A. Times reports that in a test program in one school in Washington County, Maine, before and after laptop statistics are impressive:

As school administrators such as Principal Gregory Goodness of the Shapleigh Middle School lauded his state's effort to "level the academic playing field," the $37-million "learning technology initiative" made Maine the first state to offer universal laptop distribution to an entire grade of middle-schoolers.

In a trial run last spring at one school in rural Washington County, absenteeism dropped 50 percent with the arrival of state-issued laptops. Pre-laptops, seventh-graders at Pembroke School received 28 detentions in 96 days. With laptops, the same students numbered just three detentions in 79 days. Using the laptops, 91 percent raised their grades in at least one academic area; 82 percent improved in two subjects; 73 percent in three or more fields.

"I was a skeptic at first," Goodness said. "But this really is changing the face of education."

The article also reports on another program success, the widespread acceptance of the initiative by Maine's legislators and public. From the article:

"Dear Governor," read one typical e-mail when King floated the proposal almost three years ago: "This is the stupidest idea any politician ever had. What are you smoking?"


"Dear Governor," wrote the mother of a child whose seizure disorders kept him from holding a pencil long enough to complete a spelling test: "I want to thank you for saving my son's life."


In a recent interview as he prepares to leave office in January, King said, "I had this clear insight that we were trapped at being 37th in per capita income." That same winter of 1999, Maine woke up to a surprise budget surplus of more than $50 million. King decided to use it to help vault the state out of poverty by making it a leader in technology education.

After a year of haggling, the state Legislature approved a $30-million endowment that staggers the initial apportionment of 36,000 laptops over two years. Foundation donations paid the difference for the $37- million contract with Apple Computer Inc.

This year's seventh-graders will use the current batch of machines again next year, in the eighth grade, while the incoming seventh-graders will receive new Apples.

An annual outlay of $15 million to $20 million - out of the state's $1.8-billion school budget - could keep the program going indefinitely, King said. He said that during a recent special session in which lawmakers grappled with a $240-million budget shortfall, no one called for eliminating the laptops.

You can find more information on the full article on the L.A.Times Web site. It's a good read.

The Mac Observer Spin:

There are many ways to measure the success of Governor King's laptop program: We can look at the attention the program has garnered for the state and the education system of Maine, or we can look at how the attitudes of the Maine voting public have changed to favor the program, or we can examine how well the program survives Maine's yearly education budget. No matter how it's sliced, few would argue that the laptop program is a success.

The real measure of that success can't be measure for some time yet, however, not until the first students in the laptop program graduate high school and their academic histories are reviewed in full. Early indications, as pointed out in the article, are encouraging, but those results must continue throughout the student's academic career and they must ultimately translate into more and better jobs and an overall increase in Maine's economy as the students with laptops join the workforce. For those results we will have to wait and see. For now, at least, all indications are that Governor King's technology education initiative is a success and that, by any measure, is a Good Thing™. In this case, it's a Good Thing™ for Apple, too.