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Part 10 in my Top 10 Trends of 2014 series

2015 will mark the 25th anniversary of the first one-to-one laptop program. In 1990, the Methodist Ladies’ College in Melbourne, Australia gave all its students in Years 5 through 12 a computer. 2015 will mark the 35th anniversary of the publication of Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms. It’ll be the 15th anniversary of Maine Governor Angus King’s proposal to give a laptop to every middle school student and teacher in the state.

I’m not sure how the ed-tech industry will celebrate. As I’ve argued elsewhere, ed-tech suffers from amnesia, always forgetting or rewriting its past. It’s committed to a story that everything is new and that everything is wonderful.

It’s neither.

The Great LAUSD iPad Fiasco


It’s pretty incredible that after decades of one-to-one computing initiatives, schools can still get things so very, very wrong. Or maybe it’s not. Maybe that’s what happens when you ignore history and research. Maybe that’s what happens when you focus on profits, on data collection, on content delivery, on assessment.

When the Los Angeles Unified School District announced last year that it planned to give all 700,000 public school students an iPad (pre-loaded with a specially-designed Pearson curriculum), it was a very big deal – in terms of price-tag and publicity. Apple even issued a press release, boasting that it had been awarded the $30 million contract. $30 million out of an initiative expected to cost the district over $1 billion.

There were signs early on that LAUSD was struggling with the implementation. The district's WiFi infrastructure wasn’t robust enough. It hadn’t made plans or policies to deal with theft. And students quickly “hacked” their devices – or at least, they bypassed the security profiles set up to prevent them from downloading music and watching movies.

But this year, LAUSD’s iPad initiative has moved from being “botched” to being a full-blown scandal. Superintendent John Deasy resigned, as did the district’s CIO. A federal grand jury has been called to look into the procurement process, although its unclear if LAUSD or Apple or Pearson (or all of the above) is the target of the criminal investigation.

In August, several news organizations obtained and published emails between LAUSD, Apple, and Pearson officials. These revealed that Superintendent Deasy had begun meeting with these companies – specifically with former Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino – to discuss the hardware/curriculum purchase almost a year before the contract ever went out to bid.

In response, Deasy announced he would cancel the contract with Apple, and that the district would reopen the bidding process. Deasy’s replacement, Ramon Cortines, initially indicated that he’d make major changes to the program, suggesting that he did not want to use construction bond money to fund it. But as has happened almost weekly with this story, things changed. The contract with Apple was not cancelled – not entirely as the district announced it would spend $22 million to buy 20,000 more iPads just in time for spring standardized testing season. And instead of spending $504 per iPad, the district would pay $552 for each device.

In September, the American Institutes for Research (AIR) issued a 95-page report evaluating the district’s iPad project. It found that only one teacher out of 245 classrooms reported using the Pearson curriculum. (It’s costing the district about $200 per device for a three-year licensing deal.) 80% of high schools reported they “rarely used the tablets.” The report also found that the district was so busy dealing with the distribution of the iPads, it never really addressed using them in the classroom.

Bonus: in August, an audit found the district was missing $2 million in computers, mostly iPads.

You can read the rest of this post (it's only 2700 words!) here.

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Audrey Watters


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