One-to-One Laptop Schools/Maine

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The Maine Initiative and its Demographics

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Used by permission of freelance photographer
Used by permission of freelance photographer

The Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) is an ongoing effort to put in the hands of every student (and teacher) in the state of Maine, grades 7 through 12, a laptop and Internet connectivity, with the ultimate goal of enhancing their learning and training them in the practice of skills many believe will be necessary to succeed and excel in the 21st century. The initiative was the thought-child in the year 2000 of, then governor of Maine, Angus King. Gov King, an established business leader, successful politician, and someone known for forward-looking thought, wrestled with how to stimulate his own economy and create jobs (Carvin, 2006). He observed other states at the time cutting taxes, encouraging R&D and international trade, but he also saw those steps as too halting (“with Maine 37th in per capita income nationally, we had to do something much more far reaching”) (Carvin, 2006). He proposed that an unforeseen 70 million dollar surplus in the state budget be used for this large-scale undertaking that, in his mind, would equip the “next generation to ask the right questions and identify the issues” instead of stuffing them with facts (Carvin, 2006). The renowned educational thinker Seymour Papert, a resident of Maine, was also a key influence on his thought: Papert believed that only when every child has his/her own tool will the deeper kind of (i.e., constructivist) learning become a reality in schools.

Thus began one of the most ambitious educational endeavors ever undertaken and the first such statewide laptop initiative. Whatever else might be argued for or against Maine, no one can deny that it was characterized by incomparable planning from the beginning. In 2000, a Task Force was established to report to the legislature and it discussed in extraordinary detail virtually every aspect of the initiative, from estimated costs, to teacher training, to evaluation, to timeline (Task Force on the Maine Learning Technology Endowment, 2001). The Task Force also laid out clearly the goals of the initiative. Expanding upon the ones Gov. King had enunciated—equity of access to technology, thorough integration with Maine’s learning goals and curricula, and economic development—it added a) teacher preparation and ongoing professional development, b) sustainability, c) developing a bold vision” of integration, d) lifelong learning for Maine citizens, e) “fostering the equitable sharing of costs” (among public and private sector, taxpayers, and philanthropists, and f) local participation and flexibility (“enabling local school units and communities to determine how the MLTE plan will” in their specific district) (Task Force on the Maine Learning Technology Endowment, 2001).

Preceded by a piloting program in nine districts that involved, among other things, the creation of a vast network of teacher mentors and content specialists, the plan rolled out to 7th graders in the fall of 2002 and 8th graders in the fall of 2003. A total of 37,000 Apple 12 inch iBooks, with a full complement of software and infrastructure for wireless networks, were distributed (Muir, 2003). Teachers received their machines in the summers before each rollout and attended training conducted by Apple and later by teacher mentors (Muir, Knezek, & Christensen, 2004). Middle school students were targeted first because the planners reasoned that they were still the most open to the excitement of learning, and at the same time would have more responsibility than younger children when it came to the care of the laptops (Muir, Manchester, & Moulton, 2005). In the fall of this year (2009), the program will expand to all high school children and teachers (grades 9 through 12), with a deployment of over 100,000 leased Mac Books (MLTI Project Team, 2009).[1] The demographics of the state of Maine are rather diverse: they break down into generally poorer northern counties (median income at $39,000 in 2005), with less Internet penetration (15% Internet access at home in 2005) to wealthier southern counties (with median income between $50,740 and $56,999, 2007) and Internet access at 68% of homes (2007) (Task Force on the Maine Learning Technology Endowment, 2001). Primary industries in Maine are agriculture, textile, marine, shipping, and tourism. Technology, nevertheless, is well penetrated in some firms in both the north and the south (Muir, Knezek, & Christensen, 2004). Computer penetration in Maine’s schools in 2002 was anywhere between a 10 to 1 ratio and a 5 to 1 ratio, many schools had rolling computer labs, most had wireless networks already, and teacher comfort and degree of use of technology in classes was low on both counts. Difficulties teachers expressed before the initiative first rolled out had to do with not having enough time to integrate fully technology, technical problems not being resolved in a timely fashion, and lack of technical support with software (Task Force on the Maine Learning Technology Endowment, 2001).

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Wikimedia image

Maine’s Value and Importance

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What is the value of the MLTI project for K-12 education in general? One benefit will certainly be the accumulated knowledge about how to integrate technology into classrooms and specific content areas. Much of this is being cataloged at MaineLearns archives where for the last 7 years, Teacher Leaders, Content Mentors, teachers, and students have been posting software tutorials and tips, lesson plans integrating technology, blogs on how to use technology in classrooms and the field, and student projects, each broken down into specific content areas and grade levels. These resources, now in the thousands--tested and honed in the fires of real classrooms--should prove valuable for educators everywhere. The resources are publicly accessible by anyone on the Internet.

Of course, another value of MLTI will be what it tells educators about the one-to-one proposition. Does it truly enhance learning? What gains were seen for student achievement and in what areas of the curriculum were they seen? What downsides were there to the initiative and how severe were they (cost of replacement cycles has been one area where more than one school has seen prohibitive costs) (Hu, 2007). Then, are there other mixes of technology that might present a more cost-effective way of doing things? (Appel, 2006). Chris Toy, principal of the Freeport Middle School in Maine, discusses many of the things he learned from the MLTI, but the one thing he emphasizes over all else is the example the principal of each local school sets for using technology, for supporting it, and for championing it (Toy, 2008). The Initiative can also be held up as one excellent example for how to do training and professional development.

Planning or Process Responsible for Greatest Success

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Before talking about the process responsible for the greatest success in MLTI, we might want to ask what is the greatest success of MLTI? One can still only look at middle school results since the high school program is just getting ready for deployment this fall. There is still a great deal of data that one can consider when looking for the successes. Examples are data on student achievement such as test scores, observations of teachers about student work and motivation, the actual work of students, their attendance and their observations of their own work and motivation, the satisfaction of certain equity goals, and the ability to keep cost reined in for the laptop program. Studies point to significant reductions in student absenteeism, and a combination of teacher observation and student reaction report greater student motivation across subjects and grades (Maine Education Policy Research Institute, University of Maine Office, 2003). As for the data on student achievement gains, one is first of all largely reliant upon the evaluation work of certain bodies that appear to have close relationships with the planners and shapers of the MLTI, namely the Maine Education Policy Research Institute of the University of Maine. This, indeed, has been a criticism of MLTI (Jackson, 2004). Furthermore, the criticism has been made that when it comes to the impact of laptops upon student achievement test scores, the description of the tests conducted as well as the meaning of the scores collected have been couched in vague terms (Appel, 2006).

When one considers MEPRI Research Briefs such as the studies done on student writing skills, the mathematics skills, and the studies on laptop use by learning disabled students, one comes away with mixed feelings concerning what is really demonstrated. In the area of writing, 70% of students and teachers report that they felt laptops helped them write better, by enabling them to revise and make drafts easier. However, test scores on the MEA writing scale proficiency assessment (itself not explained very well) were insignificant when year 2000 was compared with 2007(Silvernail, & Gritter, 2007). In the area of mathematics, the MEA mathematics test on the two clusters “Numbers and Operations” and Patterns” point to significant gains between 2002 and 2004: the report states that students, after working with their teachers using certain digital mathematics modeling tools (but we are not told which ones), improved in their ability to use causal modeling techniques and hierarchical linear modeling (Silvernail, & Buffington, 2009). In the area of the special education program, teachers observed that some students were greatly helped by laptop use: their writing skills, concentration skills, and organizational skills all improved. Others were over-stimulated by the laptops and recommendations were made they not use them (Maine Education Policy Research Institute, University of Maine Office, 2004). The bottom line of this discussion seems to be that the court is still out on test achievement improvements under MLTI and, furthermore, there is a need for research from firms more distanced from the Maine initiative.

When it comes to the equity goals of MLTI, many would agree that there is definitive success here. The initiative has reached the stage where the laptops can be taken home (with parents picking up a low cost insurance claim), and this will continue in the high school program. As for Internet access at home, a $5 million gift has been earmarked to provide wireless access through the Middlemaine server at each local school district, and something like this will continue at the high school level. By accessing Internet through the Maine server, proxied or restricted access can also be maintained (MLTI Project Team, 2009). In the high school initiative, the laptops will also be loaded with links to Maine’s Career Center resources so that parents can use the machines to pursue job opportunities and career advancement (MLTI Project Team, 2009).

In the opinion of many, the greatest success of MLTI thus far and the process that lead to it must be considered the coordination of the contract for purchase and ongoing support made with Apple. In reading about other OLPC programs in the U.S. that are now defunct, one hears again and again that it was excessive maintenance costs that lead to their demise (Hu, 2007; also Jackson, 2004). From the start, the MLTI planners made good decisions about the hardware-software mix: they chose software for the machines that leaned heavily on open-source, but which also closely served educational purposes.[3] In this way, they could afford to ask for more in certain critical areas, like a maintenance plan lasting between three and four years and online and phone support from Apple, both to target past complaints from educators.[4] Of course, they emphasized wireless connections to keep down network infrastructure costs. They also coordinated a sharing of costs between federal government entities, the state of Maine, and the local school districts. The cost per local school district for the upcoming high school deployment is $242/seat, quite cost-beneficial by all accounts (MLTI Project Team, 2009).

A close second when it comes to a process involved in success has to be the way that technology integration was conceived and, as a result, the training of teachers conducted. Not only did the planners of MLTI and the designers of teacher training never appear to become enamored with technology apart from learning goals, but the placing of technology to the service of curricular goals and not the other way around was and remains the focus of the initiative. The Maine’s Learning Results document was held up as the focus throughout (as well as during the RFP process) (Task Force on the Maine Learning Technology Endowment, 2001). O’Donovan (2009) states: “laptop programs have to support the standards that students are expected to learn.” Even if the laptops enhance innovation, creativity, and research, this does not go far enough.[5] Toy (2008) also states that “it is difficult for teachers to change practices without extensive staff development.” The planners of Maine’s training programs, evidenced by the many sessions, tutorials, and others resources one sees listed on their Mainelearns websites, kept their eyes securely on the right goals. If Toy’s (2008) comments and other blogs are any indication, MLTI seems to have excelled in the area of creating the right culture, the right support level, and the right vibe.

Thus, one concludes under this section that more research is needed into student achievement as well as more independent research. Also, it will take even more time to see gains made due to the need to train teachers on practices they are not used to; thus, an OLPC program will never be a quick fix (e.g., a school pressing to make NLCB gains should not opt for a OLPC).

Planning or Process Responsible for Most Serious Problems

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Used by permission of Edutopia
Used by permission of Edutopia

Problem areas in MLTI would have to relate to the failure to choose more independent research firms and more thorough research in general and also to a failure to get the private sector more involved in funding. MLTI was diligent about having research—formative and summative analyses—done on the initiative from the very beginning. They recognized that without research into the effects of the initiative on student learning and achievement, they would likely not be able to get renewed funding for it (Muir, 2003). However, the avenues they pursued to do research should have been less closely connected with the state school system. The documents one reads about the mandate of the Maine Educational Policy Initiative state that it is “an institute jointly funded by the Maine State Legislature and the University of Maine System” and has no financial or conceptual interests in endorsing any particular policy or initiative in the education of Maine’s youth See here. However, many of the research briefs come off as though they support MLTI efforts a little too often for one’s comfort. Another problem in the research done is lack of concrete detail about what the tests employed in the studies actually measure. (The writing and mathematics Research Briefs referenced above are particularly good examples). There is also a greater need in these studies to control for other factors that may be affecting outcomes (Appel, 2006).

When it comes to funding the initiative on an ongoing basis, MLTI has done an excellent job spreading the funding around both in 2002 and today. The new deployment once again draws upon e-rate funds, State Fiscal Stabilization funds and state recovery funds as well as title funding used by the local school districts. One can’t help but admire the creative ways the shapers of MLTI have worked the initiative, allowing the local districts to decide on actual participation in the program and them assisting them in finding all available funding[6] However, the one thing missing from funding still seems to be the influence of the private sector. We hear of nothing in the documentation after Guilford Industries enters the mix back in 2001 (MLTI Project Team, 2009). One would think that with that example and all business has to gain from such a program, there would be greater interest and greater pursuit of that dollar on the part of the planners of MLTI.


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MLTI was an enormous undertaking and a risky one at that, but one that in the final analysis ought to be applauded for its calculated daring in its concern for the future of Maine’s youth. Without any models to emulate, it also did an extraordinary job of keeping its focus on curriculum goals with the technology serving those goals and not the other way around, and also left a comfortable amount of room for local control. The exceptional training and background support (technical and personal/emotional) available to teachers created the right culture for success. It was also creative in its funding strategies. However, to answer the questions about student achievement gains more satisfactorily, the initiative needs more independent and well thought through research. Gains in increased student attendance and motivation are both very positive signs and may be precursors to gains in other areas more closely related to curriculum, but we need more evidence of this. The initiative has taught us all a number of very important things about the OLPC proposition; we look forward to better research (and more of it) and which focuses on content areas or curricular goals.


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  1. With plans to continue through 2012-2013.
  2. Some of the material in this section comes from a perusal of Chris Toy’s article, where he discusses, quite candidly, both successes and failures of MLTI from his perspective at Freeport (Toy, 2008).
  3. See the 2009 Participation Packet for information on the software mix then and now (MLTI Project Team, 2008/09).
  4. The online database tools like inventory and trouble ticket reporting did not hurt, but one is not sure how well they work in actual practice. See them all linked in the educator technical and policy manual here:
  5. Also, Bette Manchester, a top project director of MLTI, made the following astute and eye opening remark about the planning of the initiative: “There needs to be a leadership team that looks at things through three different lenses: the lens of curriculum and content; the lens of the culture of the building; and the lens of technical needs (O’Donovan, 2009).
  6. See specifically this document under 2009 deployment FAQ’s (MLTI Project Team, 2009).


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Appel, J. (2006). School laptop debate heats up. ESchoolNews, 126. Retrieved June 28, 2009, from

Carvin, A. (2006, June 22). Angus King: a brief history of Maine's laptop program. Message posted to

Hu, W. (2007, May 4). Seeing no progress, some schools drop laptops. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Jackson, L. (2004). One-to-one computing: lessons learned and pitfalls to avoid. Education World, 27. Retrieved June 25, 2009, from

Maine Education Policy Research Institute, University of Maine Office. (2003). The Maine learning technology initiative: teacher, student, and school perspectives mid-year evaluation report. Retrieved June 10, 2009, from

Maine Education Policy Research Institute, University of Maine Office. (2004). The Maine learning technology initiative: laptop use by seventh grade students with disabilities: perceptions of special education teachers. Retrieved June 8, 2009, from

MLTI Project Team. (2008/09). MLTI 2009 deployment participation packet. Retrieved June 20, 2009, from

MLTI Project Team. (2009). MLTI 2009 deployment faq. Retrieved June 20, 2009, from

Muir, M. (2003). Maine’s learning with laptop initiative. Edtechnot. Retrieved June 8, 2009, from

Muir, M., Knezek, G., & Christensen, R. (2004). The power of one- to-one. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ695898). Retrieved from ERIC database.

Muir, M., Manchester, B., & Moulton, J. (2005). Special topic: learning with laptops. Educational Leadership, 62, 1-7.

O’Donovan, E. (2009). Are one-to-one laptop programs worth the investment? District Administration, 149. Retrieved June 8, 2009, from

Silvernail, D. L. & Buffington, P. J. (2009). Improving mathematics performance, using laptop technology: the importance of professional development for success. Retrieved June 11, 2009, from University of Southern Maine, Center for Education Policy, Applied Research, and Evaluation Web site:

Silvernail, D. L. & Gritter, A. K. (2007). Maine’s middle school laptop program: creating better writers. Retrieved March 22, 2008, from University of Southern Maine, Center for Education Policy, Applied Research, and Evaluation Web site:

Task Force on the Maine Learning Technology Endowment (2001). Teaching and learning for tomorrow: a learning technology plan for Maine’s future. Retrieved June 8, 2009, from

Toy, C. (2008). Ten lessons learned: considerations for school leaders when implementing one-to-one learning. Meridian, 11(1). Retrieved June 27, 2009, from