Shepard School in Missouri has used 94 Palm handheld computers and keyboards for three years and Columbia Public Schools is spending $20,000 to replace them. Parents, teachers, and students support the purchase, but school board member Michelle Gadbois isn't so supportive. Michelle claims the money could be spent in better ways. This purchase is one of the reasons she voted against the district's $207 million dollar budget. Michelle claims to have seen "all of the information on this program" and she remains "unconvinced that this money would not be better spent improving teacher/student ratios in our classrooms."
My guess is that Michelle has not stepped foot in a handheld-using classroom. I bet she has not sat down with any of those students to see what they actually do on a handheld. And, although $20,000 sounds like a lot of money, divide it by 94 students and 3 years, and it's about $70 per student per year. Columbia Public Schools spends about $7,600 per pupil per year. $70 is less than one percent of the per pupil spending. That one percent can make a large different in students' attitudes, motivation, and learning.
Janese Heavin wrote an article about Michelle's opposition to handheld computing for the Columbia Daily Tribune titled Handheld Computers Worth the Money, Teachers Say. In contrast to the school board member, Columbia educators certainly have lots positives to say about handhelds. Though the article makes it sound like handhelds are only used for word processing, we know there are dozens of educational applications (most of them free) that really make handhelds a valuable learning tool.