LA Unified School District’s iPad program ends up a bust

$1.3 billion dollars later, it appears that the Los Angeles Unified School District‘s Common Core Technology Project (aka “iPads-for-all”) is a bust, a massive waste of taxpayer money and a boondoggle of massive proportions. It was a sweet contract for Apple, no question, when one of the largest school districts in the United States signed a contract to purchase 700,000 iPads through money raised through a popular Bond issue. But it didn’t quite work out as promised…

Learning how to use the iPad

In fact, the project has fallen apart so badly that a Federal Grand Jury today subpoenaed 20 boxes of documents and paperwork from the district offices and educational software partner Pearson. According to the LA Times, documents requested include “score sheets; complete notepads, notebooks and binders; reports; contracts; agreements; consent forms; files; notices; agenda; meetings notes and minutes; instructions; accounting records” and more.

Part of the investigation relates to the original contract terms after it became apparent that LAUSD project champion and former schools Supt. John Deasy actually had close ties with executives at both iPad supplier Apple and educational software supplier Pearson. Now that doesn’t look suspicious, does it?

That $1.3 billion breaks down to $500 million for the hardware (which works out to a suspiciously high $714 per iPad) and another $800 million for staffing, improved Internet bandwidth across the hundreds of schools in the sprawling school district and related costs.

I have a Masters in Education and have watched with dismay how the zeal and optimism of individuals within a school are never matched by the pragmatic reality of life in a classroom.

In a nutshell, it’s the training and support, stupid.

The teachers in the LA Unified School District were never properly prepared or trained to smartly integrate iPads into their curriculum and just handing them out is stupid: without a plan it’s just more work. Complicated, expensive, anxiety-provoking work for districts that have other priorities in most cases. As the LA Times reports, “teachers felt poorly prepared to use the devices.”

It’s why I have never been a supporter of NetDay, the day each year when industry gets together to put fancier computers and better broadband into classrooms. Without the commensurate training for the teachers and modified curriculum to help the new gear become part of the teaching strategy, everything just ends up collecting dust, being unused, or, worse, devolving into a toy for the kids to play with once they’re done with their real schoolwork.

The situation in Los Angeles is a tragedy. Such a massive waste of money in a district where so many children could have been very well served by gaining access to the limitless potential of the Internet and a powerful device like an Apple iPad. But when it became all about the gadgets and not the training, deployment and curriculum, it was inevitable that it’d fall into the abyss.

It just really stinks, for both the teachers excited to get modern tech into the classroom to help keep students engaged and most of all for those low income students who came this close to having an iPad to help with their education.

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