A laptop for every student

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wants every middle and high school student in the state to get a laptop computer.

Under a plan Romney proposed last week, Massachusetts would also add 1,000 new math and science teachers by creating a teaching corps to encourage students to enter those disciplines. He said the proposed bill, which includes other education initiatives, would improve the national and international academic standing of Massachusetts students.

“If we’re serious about keeping our kids at the forefront of a highly challenging and competitive world economy, then we have to take the necessary steps to energize our education system,” according to Romney's statement about the proposal.

An estimate of the cost of equipping 500,000 students with laptop PCs comes to about $54 million. The computers, which every student would own, would cost about $100 and would have full-color screens and similar features as more expensive computers. Three grades would receive the computers in fiscal 2007, followed by the next three grades the following year.

Massachusetts officials said the idea for the program came from the nonprofit One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) organization. The state would not be the first to distribute laptop PCs to students. In 2000, Maine Gov. Angus King launched an initiative to provide every seventh grader with a laptop computer. Since then, that program has grown to include eighth graders and teachers in both grades.

Nicholas Negroponte, founding chairman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Laboratory, started OLPC to provide $100 laptop PCs to students in developing countries. On the OLPC Web site, a statement from Negroponte compares computers to pencils.

Pencils “are tools to think with, sufficiently inexpensive to be used for work and play, drawing, writing and mathematics,” it states. “A computer can be the same, but far more powerful.”

Romney’s plan includes other initiatives. He proposed establishing a minimum of seven math and science institutions, which would offer accelerated courses in math, science and engineering, in cities with a population of at least 90,000.

The Romney plan, estimated to cost $46 million in fiscal 2006 and $143 million the next year, would provide bonuses to teachers who receive exemplary evaluations. It would combine academic courses with occupational training in areas such as medical services, business management and information technology.

“Gov. Romney’s education reform plan addresses the single biggest challenge for our state’s economy, which is supplying the pipeline of skilled workers that technology employers need for sustained future growth,” said Christopher Anderson, president of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, in a statement.

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