Shockingly, a federal report has determined that the ambitious billion-dollar plan to give iPads to every public school student in Los Angeles was doomed from the start, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday night.
The report, crafted by the Office of Educational Technology at the Department of Education, is yet another humiliation for the country’s second-largest school district, which has been hit by repeated scandals and crises over the past several years. Initially only provided to members of the LAUSD school board, the report went public after being posted on a local blog.
Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent John Deasy hoped to put his district at the forefront of innovation by adopting a program that would put an iPad in the hands of every single student at a cost of over $1 billion. Instead, the program attracted national ridicule as a tentative rollout at 47 schools in the fall of 2013 turned into an unmitigated disaster. Security filters that were supposed to keep students on-task were easily bypassed, while teachers often felt unprepared to make full use of the devices.
At first, the district simply slowed down the rollout, but mounting controversy led to the entire iPad contract being suspended last summer after hundreds of millions of dollars had been spent. Deasy resigned under pressure in October, and in a final humiliation, in December the FBI raided the district’s offices to seize documents related to the contract, raising the possibility that criminal charges could result from the case.
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Now, the federal government says the venture was doomed from the start thanks to tunnel vision and spectacularly poor planning.
One of the most fundamental errors officials made, according to the report, was to fixate on using expensive Apple products without seriously considering alternatives, several of which would have been far cheaper. That ignorance of alternatives existed with software as well, with the district sometimes even ignoring completely free options that were already available. That meant that from the start, the project was a significant financial burden less prepared for cost overruns and other difficulties.
In addition to spending too much on a narrow range of products, the Department of Education also found that the district had no organized vision for how classroom instruction should change to incorporate the devices. At many schools, the process of figuring out how to use the iPads only started once they had received them, rather than beforehand. Unsurprisingly, many teachers had no idea what to do.
“There is no common vision for how devices should be shifting learning and teaching within schools, making measuring impact difficult, if even possible,” the report says. Not only that, but had the project been even somewhat successful, there was no organized system for identifying successful practices and implementing them district-wide, making it more likely that mistakes would be repeated at each individual school.
Combined with other failures, such as lack of teacher training and deficient Internet connections at some schools, the entire project was hopeless before a single device entered a student’s hands.
The report is the first major outside evaluation of the LAUSD fiasco, and serves as an effective caveat emptor for other districts that may consider following LAUSD’s path. The report concludes with numerous suggestions for avoiding future disasters, including appointing a single person to oversee all instructional technology decisions, but most suggestions amount to simply stating the need for far better planning and preparation than was shown by LAUSD officials.
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