As officials in Riverside Elementary School District 96 begin considering changes in its one-to-one laptop program, the district this month will begin testing Chromebooks and iPads in a two fifth-grade classrooms.

Twenty-five Chromebooks and 25 iPads will be used in the pilot program. Chromebooks are inexpensive computers that use Google’s cloud-based operating systems and programs while iPads are a popular tablet sold by Apple.

Currently the district gives an Apple laptop computer to every fifth-grader to use until they graduate. The program began five years ago under former Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson. Some have questioned the cost of this program, especially now that many school districts are using Chromebooks at a fraction of the cost of an Apple laptop.

Chromebooks can be purchased for $200 now while the cheapest Apple MacBook Air retails for $899, although schools generally get a discount from Apple. The iPads generally cost from about $220 to $450, depending upon the model.

A survey done by Don Tufano, the new technology director for District 96, indicates that Chromebooks and iPads are becoming increasingly popular in schools. Chromebooks are easy to manage, Tufano said.

Riverside-Brookfield High School is piloting Chromebooks in a few classes this year and may begin a one-to-one program with Chromebooks as soon as the 2015-16 school year.

The one-to-one laptop program in District 96 has been controversial from the start, with some praising it as cutting edge while others see it as an expensive, poorly managed waste of money.

During the 2013-14 school year, top administrators in District 96 publicly criticized the program.

“I think the pilot program is fine,” said District 96 school board member Art Perry, who has long been critical and skeptical of the laptop program. “I’m happy for them to explore different devices and see how they work in the classroom.”

Perry said not enough thought went into how laptops were going to be used in school.

“My concern with the laptop program has always been that a big investment was made without what I think was appropriate exploration into how these things should actually support the curriculum,” Perry said.

Some parents have complained about problems with the laptops and about having difficulty connecting to the Internet or school programs while the student was at home.

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