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School Tools: Lesson in Survival of the Fittest

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NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Technology and education are the two things that I have always been passionate about. Over the past decade I have been privileged to have had a role in not only both areas, but more importantly I have been able to conduct an extensive study on how each has evolved.

However, no lesson was more potent than what was learned at the height of the recession when schools districts all over the country were adversely impacted by budget reductions resulting in mass layoffs. All of this as the future of millions of students depended on schools that were able to maintain the focus on the business of teaching and learning.

It was evident that it would require technology -- or, more importantly, its efficient use -- to come to the rescue of education and restore some semblance of normalcy. This in a financial environment that, for many Americans, was anything but normal.

Names such as Microsoft(MSFT) , Oracle(ORCL) and Apple(AAPL) are corporate rivals on Wall Street. But they became silent partners in education in the areas of virtualization, analytics and device engagement. Those areas allowed educational leaders all over the country to execute their missions in the face of uninspiring circumstances.

Old Barriers Falling

When it comes to technology in schools and in the classrooms, the biggest impediments were costs and comfort -- the latter referring to a constant unwillingness to change. However, as it seems that the technology industry as a whole has finally started to provide affordable options, school districts have reached a point where they are being forced to not only embrace change but also adapt to the unique needs of students, while also figuring out ways to strategically leverage their growing interest in mobile devices.

Not only does that present an interesting balance, but it is unchartered territory as these same devices were once considered public enemy No. 1 in the classrooms all over the country. I still haven't gotten back my beeper from the principal's office while in 11th grade. So this time, will it work?

The growing popularity of Apple's iPads and the proliferation of various mobile devices and tablets have caused schools to rethink antiquated approaches. Today, these devices are not only more student-centric but are also high-quality models. These include the Kindle Fire by Amazon(AMZN) , e-readers such as the Nook from Barnes & Noble (BKS) as well as Web-based devices such as the Chromebooks by search giant Google(GOOG) . Not only are these able to deliver high-quality and low-cost computing functionality, but more importantly, they offer a glimpse into what the 21st century classroom will look like.

The Good Student

No school district has demonstrated a better understanding than Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools out of North Carolina, a recent winner of the prestigious Broad Prize, awarded annually to urban school districts that demonstrate not only the most gains in student performances but also closing achievement gaps -- also known as the digital divide. The district has recently partnered with Microsoft to assess the future of learning and computing, while also having recently adopted a program of offer iPads to every principal and administrator at each school. So once again, technology is meeting education to address another challenge. But what does it mean for the current learning environment?