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SMART is Out?

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The Charleston County School District announced this week that it will be replacing all of its aging SMART boards in the classrooms with next-generation boards. The new devices are called Promethean ActivPanels, which are 70 inch LCD touchscreens, essentially a massive tablet for the classroom. They feature a much sharper image than the SMART boards, and do not require as much maintenance, such as the replacement of expensive projector bulbs that SMART boards require after a few years. They also have a longer life than the SMART boards, with Promethean stating that they can be used for up to 10 years. Right now, the schools in the district with the boards installed, testing their usage are Whitesides Elementary, Haut Gap, Zucker Middle, and Moultrie Middle. The response by teachers have been mixed, no feedback that they are leaps and bounds above SMART, but with the right training, several teachers said that they could be very useful in the classroom. Education technology is an evolving and expanding market, with Google and Windows investing in research for future products.

The biggest question on this topic, though, is the cost. These high-tech panels will cost upwards of $4,000 per classroom, making the total cost to the district $15 million. This begs the important question: Is it worth the money? Last year, CCSD’s budget turned up to be roughly $18 million short, resulting in the cutting of programs and teachers.  There is also a good deal of skepticism surrounding technology in schools, and its effectiveness in bettering education. A school board member who was opposed, but still voted for the upgrade, Michael Miller, said that, “We’re cutting-edge technology-wise, but it hasn’t made the transition to where it’s improving student achievement.” This skepticism is not stopping the district, however, as they have secured funding from the Capital Programs budget, which is funded by a voter-approved penny tax. But is it the best way for the district to be spending money?

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