All things being equal, everyone agrees that publishing online is better for consumable budgets and the environment. However, when put to the test, many schools still opt to print reports and report cards (the latter referring to nicely formatted documents potentially with a cute photo).
Two years ago I did a survey of 24 schools. I found 50% did at least one online report, and 60% printed at least one major report a year.
There is a middle ground in this process if a school is currently using a modern student information system such as PowerSchool. These systems allow for HTML5 based reports. The formatting and style options are numerous, and parents can print or save the documents for their records (or embarrassing moments when they meet a prom date).
This is a One-Sided Accounting Issue
Printing is expensive. Printing student records of any type is rarely perfect the first time through the process. Re-printing is common. Waste is abundant. Finally, if you send documents home with students, or mail them, a percentage a never received.
In January of 2011, the Telegraph reported that state schools were spending roughly 200,000 GBP on photocopying over five years. Printing is actually more expensive per page impression, and less efficient. This is not taking into consideration the cost of running equipment or the environmental factors. This is just in paper and black and white toner. Another study in 2011 from the Edutopia blog stated that US Schools are spending 30,000-50,000 USD on printing done by teachers for their classes. Meaning, student printing and office printing is not included.
If that money were reduced by 50%, where could it be reallocated in the land of consumables? The options are fairly endless for teachers needing resources.
In 2015 the Parent Paperwork Blog collected data showing that many schools are spending around 10% more on printing than on education technology. Apps and subscriptions are an excellent value, and not normally considered an asset. Boosting subscriptions and apps with savings from printing would be an excellent benefit in and out of the classroom.
An economist would point out that schools would not be saving if they reduced printing, they would simply be passing the cost on to families. This is true, however, the cost the school is passing is offset by the fact that families will not have massive waste in reprinting. Schools tend to print in large batches. If a mistake is not noticed immediately, then the waste from one batch would equal the initial (and only) printing from many households.
Furthermore, a percentage of families will not print at all. They will save the records to PDF. If the school prints, the school must print equally for everyone.
I am not currently permitted to share my current printing budget. However, in 2013 I was told to find savings in printing and ink. My school has an excellent Xerox plan with all the tools needed to track cost and printing. After analysis, the main issue was printing reports.
The Environmental Impact is Real
If a school really wants to sell people on helping the environment by reducing printing, then the discussion should shift to the processes involved in making paper and ink, using paper and ink, and then wasting paper and ink. Forget about counting pages, and study the entire cycle.
Here is a nice infographic and some research to support what the full cycle looks like:
A single school, on a worldwide scale, may not seem significant. I would argue that on a local community scale, a single school is one of the biggest consumers of paper and ink (and all the interrelated components). When a school acts locally, they are not simply helping the campus, they are helping their surrounding community.
Parents Like Nice Looking Reports
I have often lost when debating that my school(s) should send home simple email based reports; or suggested the online reports should be the simple default templates found in PowerSchool and other systems. I have always believed that the data is the most important element, and that 90% of all the development of reports should be in working with and communicating the data. The reality is, people want to see something appealing. With the online world as it is today, families are immersed in nice looking apps and websites. There is an expectation of nice presentation.
I suppose it is fair to state that simple reports look bleak and a slightly unprofessional.
Therefore, I have committed time to developing HTML5 based reports. I have seen many other schools do this as well.
The reports are not only visually appealing online, but have special features to format them for printing or for turning them into a PDF.
Some systems I have worked with in the past can publish a PDF directly to a parent account, however, creating the layout in many of these systems is very time consuming. Because HTML5 is so common, developing new layouts is much easier. The entire process is the same as building any type of webpage, as opposed to developing in a system that use proprietary software.