Los Angeles' city school district is halting plants to provide an iPad to every one of its students amid growing criticism and issues with the $1 billion program that it initiated last year. The Los Angeles Times reports that the superintendent of the LA Unified School District, the second largest district in the US, wrote in a memo yesterday that he was suspending use of the district's contract with Apple, which would ultimately have been used to supply it with iPads for every student at its 800 schools.
There have been problems with LA's iPad program from the start
The plan began rolling out to just 47 schools last year and was supposed to have made it across the district by the end of 2014, but the program's timeline was pushed back. It's unclear how many schools are currently equipped with iPads, but the district actually began to modify the program earlier this summer, starting to offer schools various laptop options as an alternative.
The district's purchases, which included outfitting its schools with Wi-Fi, were being rolled out in phases, allowing for the contract to be halted, the Times reports. There have been calls for that since pretty much the beginning of the program, when locals asking that the funds to be used for school repairs, and concerns over usefulness rising as students immediately began circumventing browsing restrictions on the tablets and using them for fun rather than schoolwork. Beyond that, the Times reports that students and teachers have simply had issues with the tablets, finding that they were too small or difficult to type on.
Other issues have plagued the tablets' rollout. The school district had also set up a contract with the publisher Pearson to include curriculum on the iPads, but Pearson's curriculum wasn't actually complete, and what was complete apparently was not fully available to students because of contract issues, according to the Times. Beyond that, the Times got hold of draft report reviewing the district's contracts with Pearson and Apple, which found several points of concern, including the appearance of conflicts of interest among district officials in favor of the two chosen companies. The district's superintendent has stated that no inappropriate actions were taken.
The district's blunders with expanding tablet access to all of its students is by no means a sign that this technology is entirely unfit for the classroom, but it does indicate that it's still quite nascent and that there are clearly quite a few problems to work out. That includes developing proper curriculum and setting up infrastructure in the schools to support internet access and use of the tablets.
Apple has intermittently declared education to be a big focus for it, and there's no question that it's in the position to make a lot of money by taking over the classroom. It's apparently had some success so far — back in June 2013, when the LA deal was announced, Apple said that there were already over 10 million iPads in schools — but this deal falling apart is still a bad look for it. Even though Apple's tablets provided far from the only issue that's led LA's huge school district to abandon its plans, it means that what is perhaps the biggest proving ground for this technology so far is now throwing in the towel on tablets alone.
The district still intends to outfit its students with some sort of personal computing device, however. It's now in the process of developing a new process for finding vendors, and it says that it will be taking into account the concerns it has been receiving while planning its next steps.