At least not like it used to be. With state and local budgets in the dumps, instructional technology has lost the air of invincibility it had during the dot-com days when schools were buying computers (and anything else that even smelled of high tech) as fast as they could write the checks. That downturn in the love affair with all things tech is hitting the high profile laptop programs now going on in many states.

Nothing about tech programs being cut back or eliminated is particularly surprising in light of the economy. It’s also not entirely a bad thing since we still don’t do a good job of integrating the use of computers into the curriculum. But maybe there’s a glimmer of hope in this story.

Most middle school teachers have embraced the laptops, and it’s not unusual for their students to create multimedia presentations instead of turning in traditional reports. Last year, Chamberlin’s students created a Web site focusing on whether the United States should attack Iraq, with opinions for and against. "There are no textbooks they can use to look that up,” he said.

Using computers to teach in the same old way makes them a huge waste of money. There are cheaper tools if all you want to do is boost standardized test scores. Using computers to allow students to gather facts, sift through and make decisions about information, and present their ideas in new ways – now that’s an excellent investment.