Schools Need Solutions to Rein in Missing Student Devices and Runaway Costs
Written by Ian Slack
School districts across the U.S. have made headlines recently for millions of dollars in missing technology. In Charlotte, North Carolina, a television station investigation uncovered $1.5 million in lost devices. Atlanta Public Schools announced it’s spending $3.5 million to replace lost or damaged equipment.
It’s happening because 1-to-1 technology programs—where school districts provide laptops and sometimes hot spots to every student—are relatively new ground for many educators. There was a hard pivot to remote learning because of the pandemic, but now it’s here to stay.
Technology is an integral part of everyday learning. Giving students devices like Chromebooks helps narrow the “digital divide,” where some may not have the same access to resources at home that their peers do. Many districts also like the option to go remote when they need to—especially during weather events like snow days.
The problem is school district IT teams rarely have the resources to manage such large technology programs in addition to the work they were already doing. It’s not just staying on top of ongoing repairs. There are inadequate processes for holding students and families accountable for technology or getting it back at the end of the school year so that it can be refurbished and put back into use the following year. Programs need to include detailed asset tracking and reporting to know where the devices are. Without such details built into the technology blueprint, millions of dollars are being lost unnecessarily, and that’s taxpayer money.
What can be done?
The first step in solving the problem is building a holistic program to support a long-term sustainable technology strategy. It goes beyond deciding to implement a 1:1 program. You must thoughtfully and purposefully design the infrastructure to support it. Part of this may be instituting financial or other consequences if district-issued Chromebooks, iPads, or hot spots are lost or stolen. Holding students and families accountable with fees means it’s far more likely devices won’t disappear. Schools can limit the number of new devices a student can receive and require periodic device check-ins during the school year to keep tabs on them.
Learn from what businesses do
Enterprises have overcome the challenges of managing large mobile technology programs, and school districts can use many of their techniques. One is automation. There are digital asset management tools available that give you an end-to-end view of all your devices. You can see where things are and what their status is. It helps you keep track and also spot trends like certain devices failing frequently in the same way. The data enables you to manage and make informed strategic decisions about your program.
Outsourcing is also a tool often used by enterprises. With good IT help so hard to find, handing off device repairs and other work often considered “boring” to IT teams frees them up to work on more strategic initiatives. Many districts are seeing student devices that need repair piling up in closets because IT teams don’t have the time to look at them. That’s unfortunate when repairs are often cheaper than buying replacement devices. The ultimate issue is downtime from student learning. If devices aren’t functional, they are not able to support the demands of today’s school environment, and there is an interruption to learning.
Where to now?
As part of its pandemic relief efforts, the federal government made a lot of funding available to schools to pay for at-home learning technology. With that money drying up, schools will have to decide what the future of their 1-to-1 technology programs looks like and how much of their budgets to devote to them. There’s clearly value in school technology programs. Digital learning is here to stay, and it’s important to ensure that every student has an equal opportunity to get ahead. Running tech programs as efficiently as possible maximizes every penny invested and supports student learning outcomes.