Maine educators cool to HP, Microsoft

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News,Science and Technology

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Maine schools didn't exactly embrace the state's preferred option for laptops to be distributed to more than 70,000 middle and high school students, opting instead to stick with what they know: Apple.

Figures released by the Maine Department of Education on Friday showed school districts overwhelmingly opted to stay with Apple instead of Hewlett-Packard for new laptops and tablets this fall.

All told, 39,457 students and teachers will get Apple's iPad tablet with an annual cost of $266 per unit, including networking, and 24,128 will get Apple's MacBook Air with a cost of $319. Only 5,474 will use the HP ProBook 4440 laptop, equipped with Windows 7, which was the least-costly option for a laptop at $286.

"These devices put students in the driver's seat," said Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen, who believes technology is integral in the state's effort to implement personalized, proficiency-based learning.

It was no surprise that the majority of school districts chose to stick with Apple, which was the sole vendor for the Maine Learning Technology Initiative for more than 10 years. Administrators and teachers are familiar and comfortable with Apple products, and many have infrastructure built around Apple products.

But two dozen districts did make the switch to HP and Windows.

Jennifer Nitchman, director of the Scarborough Information Systems Department, said the school system opted to go with HP laptops for students from grades six through eight because of the cost, HP's applications and professional development, and the fact that Windows-based machines are used everywhere else in the school system.

She said she came to the same conclusion when making a purchase for own high school-age daughter: Windows-based machines are what the business world uses, and they're less costly.

"A Windows environment is going to be what serves her best because when she goes out and gets a job, after she leaves college, she's likely going to be in a Windows environment," she said.

Maine, the only state to provide laptops to public school students statewide, worked with Hawaii and Vermont to negotiate the contract focusing on five different laptops and tablets.

Since HP was selected as the preferred vendor, it could end up selling many more laptops even though HP accounts for only a fraction of laptops currently used in Maine schools.

In Maine, HP laptops are fully funded by the state for all seventh- and eighth-graders in public schools, while schools have to pay the difference if they choose a more expensive option like the MacBook Air. The state also leverages its buying power for high schools, about half of which participate.

The four-year contracts stipulate a warranty repair process where students won't be without a computer for more than a day, as well as professional development for teachers.

The idea for the one-to-one computing program was hatched in 2000, when then-Maine Gov. Angus King suggested providing laptops to all students, regardless of means. By 2002 and 2003, more than 30,000 laptops had been distributed to seventh- and eighth-graders and to 3,000 teachers in Maine.

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