As reported by the LA Times, a new, somewhat discouraging report is about to come out regarding the Los Angeles Unified School District’s program to roll out iPads to all of its students. The report is not yet public, but was leaked to the news organization earlier this week.
The groundbreaking effort to provide an iPad to every Los Angeles student, teacher and school administrator was beset by inadequate planning, a lack of transparency and a flawed bidding process, according to a draft of an internal school district report obtained by The Times.
This sounds remarkably similar to the execution of the HSE 21 program, particularly with regard to planning and transparency.
The bidding process—and events leading up to it—were singled out for particular criticism. The report concludes that the district needlessly limited its options on price and product, and raises questions about whether the process was fair.
Among the findings:
> The initial rules for winning the contract appeared to be tailored to the products of the eventual winners—Apple and Pearson—rather than to demonstrated district needs.
> Key changes to the bidding rules were made after most of the competition had been eliminated under the original specifications.
I don’t know about a “bidding process”, per se, but the selection of the iPad for HSE 21 was largely driven by compatibility requirements for the ISTEP. However, the iPad is not compatible with the new version of the ISTEP under development. This is primarily because the iPad does not have a keyboard, but the test will require one. Oops. Couldn’t we have figured this out before launch? Actually, it’s my understanding that the HSE administration knew about this back in the Spring. Yes, they knew, and they launched the iPads in 5th and 6th grade anyway. As for other “demonstrated district needs”, HSE didn’t have any; “demonstrated” being the key word there.
As for planning, I hear of constant issues with network capacity/stability at my daughter’s school and others. Too many devices on the network and it crashes, or drops some devices as new users come on. These fundamental planning and infrastructure problems should have been avoided; at a minimum, installed and tested before the rollout. The teaching staff is being remarkably resilient and positive in the face of these problems, but that will only sustain the program so far. Eventually the problems need to be fixed (assuming they can be fixed), or the investment will not live up to its (limited) promise.
That said, too many questions were dodged at Meet The Teacher night, particularly around apps, screen time, and one of my particular favorites, “are the iPads going to save us money on textbook fees”. There’s being positive, and then there’s toeing the company line. I know from talking to some of them that they are under a lot of pressure to do the latter even in the face of clear evidence against. I feel for them.
Perhaps we can learn from others’ mistakes? If so, the LA Times article offers a glimmer of hope:
The effort was expected to expand districtwide [sic] by the end of 2014, but officials pushed the timetable back and are also testing laptops at the high school level as a possible alternative to iPads for older students.
A delay in HSE 21 – long enough to actually see if the program has any educational value – would be best. The data is simply not there. The planning and execution are not sufficient. I hear there have been a lot of complaints by parents of 7th grade students who, under the current plan, will have to buy iPads for only one year (8th grade). The following year, they hit the “bring your own device” (BYOD) technology program at the high schools the following year, where laptops and Chromebooks seem to be popular. The district is rumored to be reconsidering this part of the rollout.
HSE 21 has crossed the Rubicon with the intermediate schools, but we’re not out of the water yet.