April 11, 2007

The Educational Value Of Junkets

A few days ago, I wrote about the bill proposed by Michigan Democrats in the state legislature to buy an i-Pod for every Michigan student, supposedly for educational purposes. The plan would cost an already-strapped state government an additional $36 million, adding to their billion-dollar deficit, causing many observers to wonder where Democrats Matt Gillard and Andy Dillon came up with the idea.

Today, the Detroit Free Press answers that question. It turns out that Apple paid for their travel to visit their corporate offices in California:

Two state lawmakers backing a controversial plan to buy iPods for every schoolchild in Michigan were among a group of politicians who made a trip to California that was paid for at least in part by Apple, the maker of iPods.

The 2 1/2 -day trip earlier this year covered a range of issues and interaction on topics related to Michigan. It included a visit to Apple in northern California, where the politicians discussed classroom technology and educational uses for the popular audio and video players, said Rep. Matt Gillard, D-Alpena, one of the legislators who made the trip.

House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township, also made the trip to San Francisco and nearby Santa Clara County.

The $36-million iPod proposal was unveiled last week at a news conference called by Dillon to discuss the state's budget crisis and House Democrats' plans to address it.

The lawmakers insist that the i-Pods would benefit grade-schoolers in their education. Students could download lectures, they claim, which should prompt even more questions. How many lectures do first-graders get? Sixth graders? How would they download these lectures, and what makes the politicians think that any elementary- or secondary-school students would actually use the i-Pods for that purpose? Would the state replace them if they got lost, too, and continue to buy them as children moved from kindergarten to the first grade?

Those questions get overlooked, and reasonably so, when people wonder why Gillard and Dillon want to put $36 million into Apple's coffers while the state faces an economic crisis and a breathtaking budget deficit. Even if they wanted to increase spending on education, why would i-Pods make the best investment? Wouldn't more schoolrooms, better materials, and a few more teachers have a more positive effect than an MP3 player?

Gillard and Dillon apparently aren't concerned with those questions. They're more concerned with the well-being of Apple than with Michigan students or the state economy. They defended their trips by claiming that Republicans have taken similar trips at Apple's expense -- but the GOP retorted that Republicans weren't dumb enough to propose this kind of pork as a quid pro quo. (h/t: CQ reader Michael J)


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Comments (14)

Posted by Lib-O-Suxion [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 11, 2007 6:42 PM

I love Apple, have converted to a Microsoft-free domicile, and eagerly await the day that Microsoft (the Yugo of operating systems) becomes a part of history. BUT....Apple really bites it on this gambit. For shame. As one who has taught physice/ee/math at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, the less computers/IPODS/cell phones, the better. These kids know how to push buttons, but cannot wire a light bulb. Dumb is as dumb does, and the pod won't help one iota.

Posted by jiHymas@himivest.com [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 11, 2007 7:26 PM

Well, I was more interested in a different part of the Detroit Free Press article:

Dillon defended the trip in a statement issued by his office Tuesday night. He said he was "one of several lawmakers to take this trip, and I am more convinced than ever that the future for our children lies in education. As we move to the technology age and the knowledge-based economy, it would be irresponsible to separate technology from our K-12 system.

"I have four children, and I see how powerful technology is in their learning experience. While I believe that moving our classrooms into the 21st Century is critical to the future of our children and this state, I fully understand that unless and until we solve the state's fiscal crisis we cannot pursue this initiative. As I have said all along, we are focused on the state's fiscal crisis first."

In the first thread on this, I argued that we should at least listen to the justification for the idea before condemning it.

That's it? Dillon's expertise in childhood education gleaned from his experience as a father of four?

OK, now I'll condemn it. Irresponsible, spendthrift boneheadism. Compounded by what is at best a serious error in judgement in allowing travel costs to be (partly, at least) covered by a potential supplier.

Posted by unclesmrgol [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 11, 2007 8:04 PM

I'm not sure it's a quid pro quo. I can just imagine Apple pouring it on during the visit about the educational facet of the iPod. For a bunch of clueless legislators who have bitten the "technology equals education" hook, the iPod becomes the salvation of their underachieving students. The iPod takes the place of the brain, eliminates the need for mathematics and reading, and is just plain quel to boot.

I've attended my share of Apple ed-marketing seminars as a tech coordinator for an elementary school, but I never inhaled deeply. For a kid to be able to do a hypercard stack properly, they needed a whole bunch of knowledge falling far outside the box containing the cpu and hard drives. But being familiar with computers is a necessity in today's world; being familiar with an iPod (or even an iPhone) isn't.

And lib-o-suction, I did not trade one master for another; I'm waiting impatiently for the day when both Apple and Microsoft shall sink into the quicksands of history, crushed with a bleating flatulent sound, trampled under the terrible clawed feet and marching truth of the Great Penguin of Freedom. Then we won't have to watch any more "1984" parodies.

Posted by Country Squire [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 11, 2007 8:23 PM

Thanks for the follow up post Captain. If there were any sound educational benefits to this plan one would think that those who promoted it would have had the sense to explain them when they made the initial announcement. The obvious and glaring absence of any educational benefits was what prompted my previous comments on this subject. And now we have before us a textbook example of why Michigan is a billion dollars in the red.

Sometimes, if it walks like a duck ….

Posted by MIWolverine [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 11, 2007 8:23 PM

This story is sadly overblown. First of all, the amount of money is 36 million dollars. That can't buy even the cheapest iPods for the 1.65 million school kids in Michigan, because Apple wouldn't sell them for 26 bucks.

Here are the actual facts from a Grand Rapids TV station: http://www.woodtv.com/Global/story.asp?S=6345567

Basically, the money is for technology. The idea of iPods was brought up, but the money is for technology in general. Please, stop beating this dead horse.

Posted by scrapiron [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 11, 2007 9:35 PM

MiWolverine, If you can't see the payoff to Apple in this I see the waste of money when educating a Wolverine. Left wing criminal politicians are now running the mental facilities.

Posted by viking01 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 11, 2007 10:01 PM

Don't overlook the many advantages:

The politically connected middleman gets rich and retires to South America.

The latest crop of electronic babysitters provides the union teachers more time to file their nails and attend activist rallies.

Audio devices will make student illiteracy less glaringly obvious while improving their recall of the really important data like Eminem lyrics or Snoop's profound philosophies on hos and of life in da hood.

In the modern era of the publik skools wasteland the classes may as well be held by cell phone and lunch should be declared the most demanding course.

Posted by Bachbone [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 11, 2007 10:32 PM

Michigan taxpayers are right to be concerned about any such "for the children" antics. Not many years ago, they paid to give computers to every Michigan teacher. The computers were supposed to improve teaching and student learning. To date, no one in Lansing is willing (or able) to report on what happened to those computers. Since the drop-out rate in Detroit and Flint is still over 50%, those computers apparently didn't do much good there. And that computer giveaway was instigated by John Engler, a Republican! The Clintons milked "for the children" dry, and taxpayers have finally learned to keep a watchful eye on politicians, and finally to say, "NO!" to throwing money at problems unless there is some accountability built in.

Posted by MIWolverine [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 11, 2007 11:47 PM

Look, this entire controversy is a bunch of nothing. This is the important thing to get out of this. To quote from the link I posted above:

"In reality, there was never a plan to buy all students iPods. There is a $38 million line item to pay for technology, far less than it would take to buy mp3 players for 1.65 million students."

That's pretty unambiguous.

Also: "House Education Committee Chair Tim Melton strongly critized Detroit News Conservative Editor Finley for "Ludicrous, completely off the mark and irresponsible journalism." Melton also says "It's absurd to even think that we proposed an iPod for every school child.. It was blown out of proportion?"

Posted by unclesmrgol [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 12, 2007 12:59 AM


It would be interesting to know just what the Democrats of Michigan were planning to buy (if at all) for every schoolkid if they weren't going to necessarily buy iPods.

I can hear it now -- we wanted to buy each of you a $23.03 technology gift (well, actually, in the interests of honesty, we were going to charge you an extra tiny bit for your soda and candy to pay for them), but those party-pooping Republicans wouldn't let us! When you grow up, please remember that and Vote Democratic!

And Tim Melton sounds like a guy with his hand stuck in the cookie jar. It may not be true, but it's exactly the kind of statement you'd expect if he were.

Of course, the real truth is buried somewhere in the committee minutes (which, if they are anything like the Congressional Record, get to be edited by those covered before publication), so we'll never know one way or the other.

One truth does remain -- do a google on this topic and it's burning virtual paper like crazy. Your friend Finley has struck a major nerve.

Posted by AMR [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 12, 2007 6:01 AM

A somewhat similar program worked well for a town in Denmark: A free-spending Danish mayor who became hugely popular for offering free vacations to retirees and computers to school children was convicted Tuesday of abusing his office and sentenced to two years in prison. But he was widely discredited after the town coffers ran dry due to his lavish spending on welfare benefits and sports facilities. The city court in Hilleroed, north of Copenhagen, found him guilty of fraud, and said he abused his position as mayor by implementing his programs and taking loans without the backing of the town council. Brixtofte, a 57-year-old former taxation minister, has maintained his innocence, saying he did it for the residents. Among his most spectacular programs were the two-week vacations offered to residents over 67 and the home computers offered to school children - all paid for by the local government. The good citizens didn’t complain until the town’s coffers ran dry? Hum- - - a lesson here, maybe.

Posted by Bachbone [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 12, 2007 9:10 AM

Rick Albin's WOOD-TV piece, linked to above, provides no source(s) to back up his statement that Democrats never proposed buying iPods. And after dealing with the Clintons for eight years, we've learned to parse political statements like Rep. Melton's, "It's absurd to think that we proposed buying an iPod...". Melton doesn't identify just who "we" might be. But Dawson Bell, of the liberal Detroit Free Press (not just the conservative Detroit News) also reported that Democrats Dillon and Gillard "...have been vocal supporters of the iPod idea." Only when confronted by reporters with the Apple junket connection did Gillard tell Bell, "I don't know that it has to be iPod specific technology."

Using tactics perfected by the Clintons, when Michigan Democrats got caught, they denied, obfuscated, said they did nothing "wrong," and besides, Republicans had done much worse.

Posted by Mark [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 12, 2007 10:17 AM

It's a safe bet that many, maybe even most Michagan students already own an i-pod or equivalent.

Posted by rogersump [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 12, 2007 1:17 PM

Are ipod sales down so much that Apple needs to obscond with taxpayer money to stay afloat? Or are they just extremely greedy enough to sell something to someone who doesn't need it. Reminds me of the Kirby vacuum sales guys selling $200 vacuums for $2000 to old ladies in nursing homes without carpets. And the fact that politicans are so quick to push the sale through for them is disgusting.