Richland School District may turn to Chromebooks for students, teachers

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldApril 27, 2014 

The Richland School District may turn to "the cloud" when it comes to providing computers and digital resources for students and teachers.

About 75 Google Chromebooks -- relatively inexpensive laptops that operate strictly through online programs -- are being used in a few high school classrooms throughout the district, said Mike Leseberg, Richland's technology director, during a recent school board meeting.

About $800,000 a year is needed to upgrade and replace a portion of the district's computers each school year, Leseberg said. Moving to Chromebooks at some schools could cut that cost significantly.

The laptops also would be easy to maintain and compatible with new computerized standardized tests that will debut in a year.

"These have really taken off as far as we're concerned," Leseberg said.

Computers and other technology have become increasingly important in schools, where they are used for everything from instruction to keeping track of student grades.

Washington's new standardized exams -- the Smarter Balanced Assessments, which are aligned with the math- and language arts-focused Common Core State Standards -- will only be available through an online portal on computers.

Districts are looking at mounting costs to keep up with the perpetual need to replace quickly-outdated hardware and software.

Richland has only half the money needed to replace about 20 percent of its computers each year and that doesn't include outfitting new schools the district is preparing to build or further technology advancements.

"What's stopping us from doing this is the dollars," Leseberg said.

Chromebooks cost about $300, almost a third less than a standard personal computer or laptop, Leseberg said. They run on a strictly online platform maintained by Google and offer other online resources called Google Apps for Education. They also support the online programs needed to take the new state tests.

There are concerns about the durability of the devices, providing sufficient internet service and privacy issues, Leseberg said. But the teachers and students using the devices in the pilot program have been pleased and past experiments with other mobile technology, such as iPads in some elementary schools, have shown that such devices can handle the wear and tear of classroom use.

"Our iPads have sustained less damage than I expected going in," Leseberg said.

The board did not take any action following the presentation but Leseberg indicated that he would like to purchase more Chromebooks as early as this summer.

-- Ti Beaver: 509-582-1402;; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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