Shawnee Mission will wait a year to decide on $9 million iPad investment, will block student access to Netflix this fall

The Shawnee Mission School District will conduct additional review of its 1:1 technology program and wait a year before deciding how to proceed on additional investments in iPads for elementary school students, Superintendent Mike Fulton said at Monday’s board of education meeting.

The announcement came in the wake of Fulton’s decision to pull approval of $9 million for the purchase of 19,000 iPads and 775 Apple TVs from the meeting agenda. The item had been included on the agenda when it was published Friday, but was taken off Monday morning.

Superintendent Mike Fulton announced Monday that the district would wait a year before deciding whether to move ahead with additional investment in new iPads for elementary students.

“We will take time next year to collect data and build understanding of our instructional practices with digital devices,” Fulton said. “No tool, digital or otherwise, is the sole cause of success or failure in student learning. How a teacher and teams of teachers use learning tools to support individual learners is the key to improved student learning outcomes. The board will receive an update next year in the form of a program evaluation prior to receiving a recommendation from me for refreshing iPad devices.”

Additionally, Fulton announced that, starting this August, the district will block access to streaming entertainment sites like Netflix on district-issued devices during school hours. Fulton said that decision was made after a group of administrators at secondary schools approached the curriculum and instruction department with a request last month.

“They indicated growing frustration among the staff and parents about the amount of time students were spending watching streaming media,” Fulton said.

Such concerns have been prevalent since the 1:1 program was first implemented in 2014, with a number of high school teachers reporting early on that students were watching shows on their Macbooks instead of paying attention to the lessons in class.

Elementary students will still use iPads next year

While the decision not to consider approving the planned investment in a device refresh means that the district won’t be deploying brand new iPads to elementary schools this August, Fulton stressed that elementary students will continue to use the devices the district currently has in its possession next year. He characterized the devices as a “resource that serves important purposes.”

“The funds allocated for iPads directly support elementary students and K-12 teachers in learning and it is important we continue to commit these resources accordingly,” Fulton said.

The news of the delay was welcomed by the Digitally Wise parent group that had raised objections when the $9 million purchase was put on the agenda. But they say they want to see the district do a better job of getting input about how tech is used in the district as it evaluates its next steps.

“We applaud district leadership for listening to community concerns and delaying the purchase of new digital devices for all elementary students. This pause provides the opportunity for the data-based evaluation of the program that Digitally Wise parents have long sought and for the community more broadly to weigh our budget priorities,” said the group’s Kim Whitman. “Digitally Wise parents recommend the board commission an independent audit of the program and administer a district-wide survey that would allow teachers, parents and students to give candid feedback on the program. This digital initiative must be evaluated based upon clearly defined, measurable outcomes, as required by the SMSD Strategic Plan and must be implemented in line with community wishes and best practices.””