XP Phase Out a Problem for Schools

The operating system of choice for more than half the schools in Washington state will become outdated.

by Anthony Kuipers, McClatchy News Service / April 3, 2014

In less than a week, Microsoft Corp. will end support and updates for the 12-year-old Windows XP. If a recent survey by the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction is any indication, this means the operating system of choice for more than half the schools in the state will become outdated.

Dennis Small, OSPI educational technology director, said last summer the office took a survey of schools in the state and determined more than 50 percent of districts still used Windows XP on their instructional computers.

Though this is similar to national trends, he said, it is still worrisome considering schools will no longer have up-to-date software.

"It is a concern that we have," he said.

Pullman School District, however, finds itself in the minority thanks to some taxpayer help and foresight.

Garren Shannon, PSD information systems director, said the district began migrating away from Windows XP and upgrading to Windows 7 in 2012.

"We saw the writing on the wall," Shannon said.

He said unsupported operating systems are risky because they no longer receive security updates. This can leave them vulnerable to viruses, spyware and other malicious software.

Shannon said computers will also be unable to support new Web technology, browsers, devices and applications. New versions of Java, Flash and Shockwave, for example, will not be available on computers that run XP, he said.

By not being able to support what he called "tomorrow's Internet," Shannon said teacher lesson plans may be affected in the near future. For instance, Shannon said, out-of-date computers may not be able to play videos, which are relied upon more and more in the classroom.

"That's where the education happens in a lot of places," Shannon said.

He said PSD was able to upgrade almost all of its computers from XP with the help of the six-year, $1.2 million technology levy passed in 2012.

Plus, the process of upgrading their computers is also cheaper now than before thanks to a licensing agreement with Microsoft. Each year, Shannon said, the district pays for the Microsoft Enrollment for Education Solutions licensing agreement that gives schools the authority to upgrade the operating system on all of their computers for a relatively inexpensive rate.

Shannon said upgrading all of the computers would have cost around $50,000 five years ago. Two years ago, that number dropped to around $10,000 thanks to the new EES licensing agreement.

"It made the process so much more affordable," he said

They have also saved costs by buying used computers and upgrading the hardware to support Windows 7.

But it seems for most schools around the state, the change is happening at a slower pace.

Small said the collection of schools still running XP is a mix of rural and city school districts. He said OSPI found schools which have upgraded to newer operating systems were often successful in passing bonds and levies to address such needs.

There is no state mandate requiring schools to upgrade, but OSPI has been recommending it to schools for more than a year, Small said.

He said there haven't been specific efforts from the state to help schools with outdated operating systems either, though he acknowledged legislators did increase funding for general materials and supplies. The recently passed supplemental budget puts $58 million toward this area.

Shannon said schools using XP will still be able to operate, they just won't be able to take advantage of new Web technology.

"Their only real answer is to stay static," he said.

©2014 the Moscow-Pullman Daily News (Moscow, Idaho)

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