Evanston Technology Decision Leaves Some Kids Behind

This is an educational tale of two tweens. My granddaughters are six months apart in age and separated by one grade level. The one who lives in Indiana uses a tablet at school, has been taught word processing, keyboarding, how to edit her writing, a bit of excel, and how to organize her homework on a calendar. The one who lives in Evanston received three weeks of instruction sometime in elementary school to prepare her for taking standardized tests on a computer. She will soon be entering seventh grade with minimal exposure to technology. Even worse, she and her peers will be excluded a program in which most middle schoolers in my community will participate.

Photo by Brad Flickinger

Photo by Brad Flickinger

I was shocked to learn from the Evanston Roundtable that next year my granddaughter who attends middle school in Evanston/Skokie District 65 will continue to receive so much less computer literacy instruction and opportunity than her cousin in Indiana. To rub salt in that wound, she will not even receive what most Evanston kids her age will get.

Next year, all Evanston middle school students will participate in the “access to innovate” technology program with the exception of seventh and eighth graders at Nichols and Haven Middle Schools. In what way does the school board and administration see this arrangement as equitable? In two years, when my granddaughter and her peers entering seventh grade at Nichols and Haven next year begin ETHS, they will be the only members of the ETHS Class of 2024 left behind by this plan.

To assume that students at Nichols and Haven do not need the same opportunity as students at Chute, King Arts, and Bessie Rhodes smacks of discrimination. I know for a fact that my granddaughter and most of her peers do not have iPads or computers at their disposal at home. If they are lucky, they may have access to a family tablet or computer, which is not the same thing as having technology at their fingertips and learning to use it in school. I also know for a fact that, through sixth grade in District 65, my granddaughter has had minimal instruction in keyboarding, let alone the technology that will be essential for her academic future.

Working with her on a family tree project, I suggested we put the information into a Word document so she wouldn’t have to re-type it later when her family computer was available. My job was to share a bit of history from my side of the family. Hers was to type it onto my computer. I was shocked to see how little she knew about keyboarding. She had no editing skills and no idea how to use spell check, change fonts, or use bold or italics efficiently. When she noticed she had made an error, she backspaced over several words to correct it. She is a very bright child and an excellent student. I was shocked no one taught her the things I had to figure out for myself as I became computer literate later in my life.

I shared my concern in an email to each member of the Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board as well as the Superintendent. The only reply I received was from Candance Chow. I appreciate her taking the time to explain how and why this decision was made, but still question why all involved felt it was equitable to leave two grades in two of Evanston’s five middle schools behind.

The motto of Evanston/Skokie School District 65 is, “Every student, every day, whatever it takes.” On April 4, 2017, I along with many other concerned citizens worked hard to pass a $14.5 million tax hike. More than 80 percent of voters supported the referendum. Now, the excuse for not supplying tablets to incoming seventh and eighth graders at Nichols and Haven is lack of money. If this is true, why not start with offering the “access to innovate” technology to eighth graders next year? At least they will begin high school with some level of comfort using the tools that all students will need to succeed in the future. The following year, include the seventh and eighth grade Nichols and Haven students. Year three, every middle school student in all schools will have the same opportunities.

I am irate that those of us who voted to pass the referendum last year assumed the money would be used to enhance educational opportunity for all students. ALL means every student in every grade of middle school should receive this technology. Leaving two grade levels at two schools behind is unacceptable. Hardly “EVERY child, every day,” when “whatever it takes” is the taxes Evanstonians generously voted to pay.

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