DAILY INSIGHT: Lamenting the choice of 'choice'

By Andrew Wallace, CIO Advisor

Fresh off the heels of two extremely uplifting events I was greeted with the sad news of the award of bid for the fourth iteration of the 1:1 program called the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI). Essentially each Maine school district will now have a choice between five qualified devices to provide to their students participating in the program (Governor’s press release).

“Choice is good, right?” you ask. Not always.

What really hasn’t concerned me are the different devices. I can’t tweet Jaime Casap’s (@jcasap) observation that “It’s not about the device; it’s about the individual using the device” on Friday and then blast the technical specs of one device over another on Saturday. I chose to leave the iOS v. Wintel v. Mac, and the tablet v. laptop v. convertible arguments to other people because today I am grieving the end of something special: a senseless death all in the name of “Choice.”

To be clear, MLTI is not dead. It is too important and too ingrained in our culture to be defeated by a questionable decision. What has made me sincerely distraught is the loss of a sense of Unity that I always felt MLTI brought to my beloved State of Maine. There is a theory called “The Two Maines” which alludes to the political, ideological, demographic, socioeconomic and cultural differences that can sometimes divide Southern and Coastal Mainers from our Northern and Interior brethren. I frequently site the success of the MLTI and the proven track records of our ed-tech leaders as a counter to this theory. Mainers have worked incredibly hard to close the digital divide by providing laptops to our kids and teachers, and by bringing high-speed Internet to remote communities (easily written off by profit-driven ISPs), through the Three Ring Binder and the Maine School and Library Network. Eleven years of MLTI has taught us that Equity of Accessand Equity of Experience are important for our students, and we are willing to invest money and our time to adhere to these tenets. Nearly all of the successes that tech-ed leaders in Maine claim are the product of a community of learners; the solutions we embrace are the fruits of a collaborative labor to make our shared experience better. I have a statewide PLC with immeasurable resources, amazing thinkers, and countless [hu]manhours, all working to solve shared problems and develop replicable experiences for our students and teachers. I have never met a successful school leader who wanted to struggle alone, and I have never talked with an out-of-state educator who didn’t envy, or at least respect, the very special educational community that is the MLTI.

Vermont and Hawaii have officially signed on to this multistate RFP, and many other states, countries and large regional school units are considering leveraging the aggressive pricing for all of the five qualified options. Those ed-tech leaders will have tough choices of their own. For once in my life I just wish someone had told me what to do, because I know when I have to do something with the support of my friends and colleagues I will always do it better than had I gone it alone.

I am hopeful that hidden among the challenges will be opportunities. I am certain that new learning communities will form, but many will be grounded in predispositions, arbitrary preferences, or the financial ability to participate—unlike our current community with its diverse ideas and voices that truly push our thinking and help us to grow in our common experience.

Andrew Wallace is technology director for South Portland Public School Department in Maine. He blogs at Shooting for Seven, where this is cross posted. Follow him on Twitter as @andrewtwallace.