Chromebooks don’t last long, and it’s costing schools billions of dollars

These devices have a "built-in death date," according to a new report. This leads to frustration among K12 leaders who adopted the technology at the height of the pandemic mainly due to their affordability.

Chromebooks “come with a built-in expiration date from the beginning,” which inevitably forces schools to pay for newer models. The technology’s short lifespan leaves schools in a difficult position as they watch their laptops fail, resulting in piles of electronic waste and “saddling schools with additional costs,” according to a new report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund.

The arguments in this report come from interviews with K12 school IT directors and repair technicians about their experience and the challenges they faced trying to repair Chromebooks and how it impacts their schools and students.

“Across the 48.1 million K12 public school students in the U.S., doubling the lifespan of Chromebooks could result in $1.8 billion in savings for taxpayers, assuming no additional maintenance costs,” the report reads.

The pandemic forced many school districts to embrace technology in ways they never anticipated, like going 1:1 with computer devices at all grade levels. The report adds that most IT directors saw Chromebooks as the most viable option for their budget. Chromebook sales rose 87% from 2019 to 2020. The Department of Education also urged schools to invest in technology infrastructure in 2020 using pandemic relief funds. This resulted in nearly every student having their own device, but it came at a cost.

“The growing trend for ‘1:1’ policies, which aims to give every student their own device, had started before the pandemic and became a necessity with remote learning,” the report reads. “Now, some three years after that huge spike in Chromebook sales—over 31 million units sold in that first year of the pandemic—schools are beginning to see their Chromebook fleets fail.”

“This is the dark side to Chromebooks: they don’t last as long as they long, and have unique challenges to fixing them,” the report adds.

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Those responsible for maintaining Chromebooks in their schools report three primary factors that lead to this churn:

  1. Manufacturers typically don’t sell new spare parts or support repair.
  2. Each device comes with a built-in “death date,” after which software support ends.
  3. Design choices frustrate repair and use.

The report offers several recommendations for manufacturers, but only time will tell whether these affordable edtech solutions will become sustainable.

“There’s a long road ahead, but more tech companies are realizing they can improve and help people’s lives with their innovations,” the report concludes. “Google and other companies making Chromebooks can lead the way by stopping the Chromebook Churn to protect our planet, our wallets and the 48.1 million K12 students who need access to technology in order to build our future.”

Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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