With Los Angeles Unified backing off its project to equip every student with an iPad, the school district is rethinking the future of the $1.3 billion technology initiative.
“What we don’t want is one-size-fits-all," announced Judy Burton, a charter school founder and chairperson of the district's new Instructional Technology Initiative Task Force, at its meeting Thursday.
Many of the group's 41 members, including parents, teachers, principals and industry representatives, want school communities to choose their own computers, locally weighing costs, support staff needs and learning goals for students.
Last school year, the district began distributing iPads to 650,000 students and their teachers, aiming to close the digital divide — the gap between low-income students' access to technology and that of their wealthier peers.
But the effort stalled as officials struggled to get tens of thousands of the devices into classrooms. Critics complained the iPads were limited and the learning software from the publisher Pearson installed on the tablets was incomplete. Students were unable to connect to WiFi, and some easily bypassed protections intended to block access to prohibited websites.
A committee chaired by board member Monica Ratliff began exploring these issues, and many others, but it was ultimately disbanded.
Last August, KPCC published a series of emails showing close ties between top staff at the district and Pearson officials. The iPad contract was canceled, and the FBI launched an investigation into whether the bidding process to acquire the tablets and software had been fair.
Only about one in six students has received an iPad.
Then, last week, the district demanded a refund from Apple, which had subcontracted with Pearson for the software that school officials said failed to deliver the promised state-of-the-art curriculum.
The iPad program has also drawn the interest of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is examining whether the district fully disclosed its intent to purchase technology when it financed the program with school construction bonds.
In February, Superintendent Ramon Cortines said the district cannot afford the one-device-per-student program as originally envisioned by his predecessor, John Deasy.
The question now is what's next. That issue is before the newly created task force, which the district says will develop a plan that "supports schools using technology to improve teaching and learning."
During its Thursday meeting, few task force members mentioned the problems of the past and instead drilled down to basic questions:
- What will students learn?
- How will students learn?
- What resources will be needed?
- How will it work?
The group is scheduled to meet 30 times before making its recommendations to the school board. The recommendations, not expected until 2016, may be less ambitious than the previous technology plan.
“Not only are we short of capital bond funds, but we are really short of operational [funds]," said Tom Rubin, a consultant who oversees the district's dwindling bond proceeds.
“It comes down primarily to dollars,” he said.