Obama touts technology at Mooresville school - WRBL

Obama touts technology at Mooresville school

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WASHINGTON -

For Sarah Allen, President Barack Obama picked the perfect spot to disclose plans to turn the nation's classrooms into digital learning centers.
    
Her three children attend Mooresville schools. The district embraces technology, distributing laptop computers to students. That culture has helped students excel, she said.
    
"It's exciting," said Allen, 45, an occupational therapist who volunteers in the schools. "The students and teachers are more engaged. You've opened up the world to them at a young age. It's an incredible tool."
    
Allen was among the 970 parents, students and teachers who gathered in the Mooresville Middle School gym to listen to the president disclose details of his plan.
    
During his speech, Obama praised the district.
    
"You're spending less money with better outcomes. There's no reason why we can't replicate the success of what we found here," he said.
    
The idea to distribute laptops was the brainchild of Mark Edwards, who this year was named national superintendent of the year by the American Association of School Administrators.
    
It has transformed the district about 25 miles north of Charlotte.
    
Since Edwards was hired in 2007, a district that ranks near the bottom in North Carolina in funding per pupil now has the second-best test scores and third-best graduation rates, according to the school administrators' association.
    
Students in the Mooresville district, where 40 percent of the kids receive free or reduced-price lunch, use laptop computers. Those in kindergarten through third grade use them only at school; students in higher grades have them all day, seven days a week
    
Allen has seen the change first hand. Her 16-year-old son Dakota is in high school. When he was in elementary school, teachers mostly used textbooks and traditional lesson plans. But her daughter Kaitlyn, who is in the 4th grade, and her 6-year-old son Jason, who is in kindergarten, learn mostly on computers.
    
She said the approach has opened up the world to her children and other students. And as a parent, she can easily monitor their progress and grades online.
    
"They think it's play time. Learning is fun, not dread," she said.
    
Jenny Burris, a Mooresville kindergarten teacher, agreed.
    
"They learn how to tweet - and blog - in kindergarten. They're more energized," said Burris who's been teaching for 22 years.
    
Before his speech, Obama toured a classroom with students. Then he went to the gym to outline his proposal.
    
He wants federal regulators to help turn the nation's classrooms into digital learning centers by equipping schools with broadband and high-speed Internet connections at a cost of several billion dollars.
    
Obama says a new initiative called ConnectED would mean faster Internet connections for 99 percent of students within five years.
    
He said technology is critical to students' success.
    
"The good news is that here in Mooresville you have devoted yourself to the cause," he said.
    
Obama called on the Federal Communications Commission to use an existing program that funds Internet access in schools and libraries through a surcharge on telephone bills to meet his goal. He also directed the government to do a better job of using existing funds to get Internet connections and educational technology into classrooms, and into the hands of teachers who know how to use it.
    
The FCC has the authority to make changes to the program on its own and would not need Congress to approve. One option for raising the several billion dollars needed for the program would be for the agency to impose a new, temporary surcharge on phone bills, administration officials said.
    
Tommy Burchett, 65, of Mooresville, liked what he heard. He has five grandchildren in the district. and his son teaches in high school.
    
"They need to be doing this all over the country. There's no excuse for not doing it," he said.
    
But Republican leaders in North Carolina criticized the trip.
    
At a news conference, state party chairman Robin Hayes and U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry called it a distraction from scandals in Washington.
    
"While we welcome the president once again to the state of North Carolina, his record of achievement has not been one of success for average North Carolinians," McHenry said. "His economic record speaks for itself. We have a sluggish growth rate, and many challenges."
 

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