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$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.

LA students hack their iPads
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The fall school session is barely underway and already the nation’s second-largest district is 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 in its ambitious $1 billion plan to give an 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 during a spring 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. They also have announced an interactive community hearing to be broadcast Thursday over local television to allow families to question school officials directly.

“With a program of this magnitude, I would expect many legitimate questions,” says LAUSD spokesman Tom Waldman, noting that more than 600 campuses serve the district’s 650,000 students. “There are sure to be some initial wrinkles to iron out,” he adds. 

However, educators who have tracked school districts around the country suggest that Los Angeles appears to be making avoidable mistakes.

“The 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,” says Larry Sand, president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, an online advocacy group.

District officials belatedly committed additional funds to provide wireless keyboards for the tablets. But, says Mr. Sand, “this was obviously a poorly thought out idea.”

Formally known as the Common Core Technology Project (CCTP), the tablet rollout is being promoted as “a major capital investment in technology-enabled classrooms.” The district says the project is helping to ready schools for Common Core State Standards, protocols adopted by 44 other states.

Noting what he calls the digital divide between many students, Mr. Waldman says the project “is especially targeting the economically disadvantaged students in our district.”

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