When the LA Unified School District announced back in June that they were going to deploy millions of dollars worth of iPads this Fall, I had the sneaking suspicion that they were rushing things and hadn't worked out the bugs nor thought everything through.
Yesterday's news about students easily bypassing security confirmed that suspicion, and today a new report has come to light that shows that this program has even more problems than just clever students outsmarting the IT dept.
For example, funding is a serious issue. To be more exact, there isn't any.
Rather than buy the iPads with the cash they don't have, the LAUSD is financing the iPad's purchase price and infrastructure costs with bonds. Each iPad costs $678 and comes with a 3 year warranty (plus a case and apps). I've heard elsewhere that Apple's warranties for schools are a good value, so the selling price is probably a better deal than it first appears.
The problem comes from the way in which the LAUSD is paying for the iPads. These gadgets, which are going to be dead within 5 years (at most), are being purchased with funds raised by selling 25 year bonds.
And it gets worse:
The district is using school construction bonds, approved by Los Angeles voters, which didn't mention the purchase of iPads. This factor raised questions among members of the appointed Bond Oversight Committee.
School bonds typically pay for construction. The permanent installation of a wireless network, for example, would certainly qualify. And computers installed in a lab conform to spending rules, in the view of many, since they aren't removed from school grounds.
So not only is the LAUSD going to be paying off the iPads long after they've gone to the landfill, they're also going to be cutting back on building maintenance and improvements in order to do so.
And that's not the only problem. The LA Times reports that teachers only received 3 days of training in how to use the iPads, and that includes the entire amount of time in which they were taught how to teach with the iPads.
Many of these teachers have never previously used an iPad for more than a few minutes, and now they are going to be expected to be able to use them in the classroom effectively. Frankly, I don't see that happening - not this year.
And even if this program does get off the ground, there are still serious doubts as to whether it will be a positive contribution to the learning experience. One reader who commented on yesterday's story about the security issues is a parent whose kid has had an iPad in school for a couple years now. They have doubts about the iPads were worth the expense:
We’ve had iPads in my kid’s school for about three years now. In my opinion, it’s not only been a huge mistake but an incredible waste of the school’s money. Students pay less attention to teachers and in many ways, the engagement is less. The school has tried to lock them down more and more each year and the kids keep finding ways around it. But honestly the best response to the whole issue was from my 15 year old daughter when they first issued the iPads. She said she would rather have had air conditioning than an iPad.
And he's not the only one. There's new evidence which was just reported today which shows that access to tablets could actually decrease the amount of time spent reading:
"Understanding the Children's Book Consumer in the Digital Age", Nielsen Book's latest research project, has found a significant fall in the number of children who read or are read to on a weekly basis, with the proportion of occasional and non-readers among children aged under 17 now at 28%, rising from 20% in 2012.
The research shows that children's reading is being affected by alternative activities, such as playing games, watching videos on websites like YouTube, and texting. During the past year, children's access to tablets more than doubled over the previous year. The devices are being used for a range of activities, but reading is considered one of its least important uses. Only 20% of children use tablets for reading e-books, while 6% use them to read magazines and comics.
Furthermore, similar large-scale 1:1 programs have been tried in the past in other school districts with mixed results. Some school districts, including the Liverpool Central School District, have ended their programs after realizing that the program was a failure:
“After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement — none,” said Mark Lawson, the school board president here in Liverpool, one of the first districts in New York State to experiment with putting technology directly into students’ hands. “The teachers were telling us when there’s a one-to-one relationship between the student and the laptop, the box gets in the way. It’s a distraction to the educational process.”
And that wasn't the only issue:
The students at Liverpool High have used their school-issued laptops to exchange answers on tests, download pornography and hack into local businesses. When the school tightened its network security, a 10th grader not only found a way around it but also posted step-by-step instructions on the Web for others to follow (which they did).
Scores of the leased laptops break down each month, and every other morning, when the entire school has study hall, the network inevitably freezes because of the sheer number of students roaming the Internet instead of getting help from teachers.
That program was ended in 2007, but there's no reason to assume that the maintenance, security, and infrastructure issues won't also affect the LAUSD.
I will not claim that the LAUSD will face all the same issues experienced elsewhere, but given their lack of advanced preparation and the limited training I don't see how this program will prove to be worth the expense.
images by Bob Chamberlin / LATimes, nooccar