$1 billion iPad giveaway at L.A. schools: Bad idea or poor execution? (+video)
L.A. school officials bill the iPad giveaway as a 'major capital investment in technology-enabled classrooms,' but under fire from parents and teachers they have temporarily halted the program.
The fall schoolÂ session is barelyÂ underway and already the nationâ€™s second-largestÂ district isÂ getting an F from educators and community members alike.
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is taking flak for what many say are predictable missteps inÂ its ambitious $1 billionÂ plan to give anÂ iPad to every student in the district.
As 26 of 47 schools in the first phase have begun handing out tablets, students have devised ways around security measures designed to prevent unfettered online access. Further, after some 69 iPads went missing duringÂ a springÂ trial run, families have begun issuing complaints that the policy on liability for loss, theft, and damage is unclear.
Teachers also have voiced concerns about the time involved in checking the iPads in and out of the classrooms.
In response, LAUSD officials have called a temporary halt to the full program.Â They also haveÂ announced an interactive community hearing to be broadcast Thursday over local television to allow families toÂ question school officials directly.
â€śWith a program of this magnitude, I would expect many legitimate questions,â€ť says LAUSD spokesman Tom Waldman, noting that more than 600 campuses serve the districtâ€™s 650,000 students. â€śThere are sure to be some initial wrinkles to iron out,â€ť he adds.Â
However, educators who have tracked school districts around the countryÂ suggest that Los AngelesÂ appears to be makingÂ avoidable mistakes.
â€śThe computers are easy to hack, have no keyboards, which the students need, and come with no specific insurance plan should they be lost or stolen,â€ťÂ says Larry Sand, president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, an online advocacy group.
District officialsÂ belatedly committed additional funds to provide wireless keyboards for the tablets. But,Â says Mr. Sand, â€śthis was obviously a poorly thought out idea.â€ť
Formally known as the Common Core Technology Project (CCTP), the tablet rollout is being promoted asÂ â€śa major capital investment in technology-enabled classrooms.â€ť The district says the project is helping to ready schools for Common Core State Standards, protocols adoptedÂ by 44 other states.
Noting what he calls the digital divide between many students, Mr. Waldman says the project â€śisÂ especially targeting the economically disadvantaged students in our district.â€ť
But this equation between technology and achievement for disadvantaged students has led some school districts astray, says Donna Celano, a professor of communication at La Salle University in Philadelphia.
â€śExpensive programs giving home computers and other information technology does not result in any significant achievement gains for low-income children,â€ť sheÂ adds via e-mail. In addition, she says, her own research indicates that â€śmere access to technology is not enough, when real differences stem from differences in literacy achievement.â€ť
Technology educatorsÂ often exist in â€śa self-reinforcingÂ community that isÂ often distant from the everyday realities of the rank-and-file practitioners of K-12 education,â€ť says Renee Hobbs, professor and founding director of the Harrington School of Communication and Media, at the University of Rhode Island.Â
She notes that sheÂ has been an active participant at education and technology conferences for two decades, andÂ says the atmosphere of excitementÂ over the possibilities of innovation canÂ sometimes overshadow a more measured approach to curriculum needs.
â€śThese technology directors are fascinated by the newest gadgets, and they just love them,â€ť she says, adding that if you get a whole roomful of them, â€śthey just seduce one another.â€ť While that dynamism and enthusiasm isÂ what it takes sometimes to move a new idea through entrenched bureaucracies, Professor Hobbs says, â€śit can interfere with real strategic planning and the kind of baby stepsÂ really needed.â€ť
District officials would do better to involve the students themselves, suggests educator Jerusha Conner, from Villanova University in Philadelphia.
â€śHad students been included in reform discussions withÂ LAUSD administrators,Â it seems likely not only that they would have anticipated and therefore helped to prevent the unintended consequences of this initiative, but also that they might have helped district officials understand the drawbacks of software blocking technologies,â€ť she says via e-mail.
â€śThe agency and ingenuity of students should not be underestimated, as they were in this case,â€ť she adds, â€śbut harnessed so that students become critical partners in developing and implementing the reforms that students themselvesÂ see asÂ needed, sustainable, andÂ most conducive to their learning and development.â€ť