Crunching Some Numbers – Funding 1:1 with Paper Savings

This morning, Sean Junkins (@sjunkins) posted a Tweet about the use of paper and how we could save money by switching to 1:1 formats:


I had to respond to his Tweet because I’ve run the numbers and I know this isn’t true.  I like the concept: not using paper because we switch to a paperless format.  I like the idea of saving money on paper–knowing that my high school of 1800 students spent more than $45,000 last year on photocopying.

Mr. Junkins sent me a link to an article which was serving as the source of his original Twitter statement, at the 21st Century Educator by David Wees.  Mr. Wees’ thought process looks like this:

Each school uses 2000 sheets of paper a day, or 360,000 sheets a year.  Multiply that times 96,000 schools, at $.05 per copy, the total is about 2 billion per year.  If you give every student a $100 laptop, that would be an expense of 8 billion dollars, paid for in 4 years–and no more paper is used.

There are several fallacies in this theory, some purely based on the numbers.  We don’t have an exact count of the number of schools in the US (private or public), we don’t really know how many total students are in the system, we don’t know how much a copy costs, we don’t know how much paper teachers are really using, we don’t know that teachers would stop using paper if every student had a digital device, and we don’t know what a device would cost.

The U.S. Census Website indicates that there were 77 million students enrolled in nearly 99,000 public schools and nearly 34,000 private schools, taught by 7.2 million teachers.  There is no way of knowing how much paper is used in these schools, but let’s say that most of these schools do not use as much paper as my school uses, but each spends $25,000 a year on printing (this is probably low).  Let’s say that by going digital, each school cuts its printing in half, saving $12,500 per year.  133,000 total schools saving $12,500 each yields an annual savings of 1.65 billion dollars.

Now, let’s say that we’re going to get each student an iPad (32GB), case, and some basic apps at $650 each.  That’s a 50 billion dollar program.  It would take 41 YEARS to fund an iPad initiative with paper savings alone.

Yes, you could TRY to go with a $100 laptop, but I’ll be the first to tell you that they won’t last, and that district IT departments are NOT going to want to support the $100 devices which will have inferior components.  Even if you went with $100 laptops, you’ve got a 7 billion dollar program (probably 14 billion because all of those devices will need to be replaced), and the time to “fund” the laptop initiative would be 6.5 years, based on paper savings alone.

The healthy way to look at 1:1 initiatives is to ignore the paper savings and let them factor into the continued support of the program, instead focusing on the pedagogical reasons for 1:1 initiatives.

I don’t mean to be argumentative about things in general–but there are enough reasons to consider 1:1 programs without needing to justify them with numbers that aren’t true.  What happens when the real numbers come back, and the initiative takes 7, 15, or 40 years to justify with paper savings rather than the promised four years?



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