Why a New Jersey School District Decided Giving Laptops to Students is a Terrible Idea

Jill Barshay:

We had “half a dozen kids in a day, on a regular basis, bringing laptops down, going ‘my books fell on top of it, somebody sat on it, I dropped it,’ ” said Crocamo.

Screens cracked. Batteries died. Keys popped off. Viruses attacked. Crocamo found that teenagers with laptops are still… teenagers.

“We bought laptops that had reinforced hard-shell cases so that we could try to offset some of the damage these kids were going to do,” said Crocamo. “I was pretty impressed with some of the damage they did anyway. Some of the laptops would come back to us completely destroyed.”

Crocamo’s time was also eaten up with theft. Despite the anti-theft tracking software he installed, some laptops were never found. Crocamo had to file police reports and even testify in court.

Hoboken school officials were also worried they couldn’t control which websites students would visit. Crocamo installed software called Net Nanny to block pornography, gaming sites and Facebook. He disabled the built-in web cameras. He even installed software to block students from undoing these controls. But Crocamo says students found forums on the Internet that showed them how to access everything.

This deployment was doomed from the start. It suffered from a lack of leadership. If you listened to our Deploy 2014 series, you'll see tons of red flags in this article. While suffering from a leadership problem, they also suffered a culture problem. The kids obviously didn't even attempt to take care of the computers. The teachers also didn't get enough training on how to integrate the technology in the classroom.

1:1 laptops isn't a bad idea. 1:1 laptops without a plan, purpose, and proper execution is a bad idea.

And the final kicker: the whole town was jamming the high school’s wireless network.

“A lot of people knew the username and password,” Toback said. “So a lot of people were able to walk by the building and they would get wireless access. Over a period of years, you had thousands of people. It bogged it down, it made it unusable.”

This is a solvable problem through a number of methods. The fact that this was a major problem is symbolic of the entire deployment.