MOSES LAKE — When school starts, each high school and middle school student is going to receive something new.
A Chromebook computer.
“We're giving out close to 5,000 Chromebooks to high school and middle school students,” said Marlin Howell, the technology director for the Moses Lake School District.
They won't all be new, of course, since the district already had a number of the simple combination netbooks and tablets it had given to selected classes of students from third grade on up to high school seniors. But those computers will be redistributed to ensure that every secondary school student — seventh grade on up — will get a computer.
According to Howell, the one-on-one pilot program, as well as studies from other school districts and even other countries where students get computers for school work, has shown that more students engage in schoolwork, and are more serious and committed to school.
“We found that engagement went up, test scores went up,” Howell said. “The thought is to roll that out to all secondary school students, those who are immediately affected.”
The goal is to improve the district's graduation rate, Howell said. Currently, roughly one in four students in the Moses Lake schools fails to graduate from high school.
The computers will change the way teachers teach, making high school and middle school classes more like college classes, Howell said, and giving sick and absent kids quick access to lessens and homework.
Howell said the district went with Google gear, as opposed to Microsoft or Apple, because Chromebooks are significantly cheaper than the alternatives and Google's suite of education software — classroom management, communications and Google Docs — is “ready to do this in prime time.”
”I really like Google, what they have done, and the ease of administration,” Howell said.
The district also has filters in place, both on site and off, to limit the ability of the Chromebooks to access social media or pornography. The district has contracted with GoGuardian, a company that specializes in classroom communication, management and computer security, to limit the access of the Chromebooks no matter where they are.
“GoGuardian is a cloud-based system that works once they leave the building. It filters off-premises, works anywhere,” he said.
The whole thing has cost around $400,000, Howell said. That's about $1 million less then if the district had gone with Windows tablets or iPads.
Howell said that the pilot program showed about one-in-five Chromebooks are damaged to need repairs, so parents can take out an insurance program to cover the cost of repairs, theft, damage or loss. Insurance is $30 for the first Chromebook in a family, and $10 for each subsequent computer.
“Students and families are liable if they are damaged or stolen,” he explained. “Just like a textbook or a band instrument.”
Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.