Classroom Technology

L.A. iPad Program an Ongoing Mess, Evaluators Find

By Benjamin Herold — September 03, 2015 4 min read
Students photograph themselves with an iPad during a class at Broadacres Elementary School in Carson, Calif.
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The Los Angeles Unified School District’s effort to transform its schools via technology remained a mostly disorganized, ineffective mess during its second year, according to a new report from the project’s independent evaluator.

Among the many issues, according to the American Institutes for Research: Continued problems deploying iPads and other devices to schools, poor coordination between the district’s massive technology initiative and other programs, lack of accountability within the central office for repeated failures to meet goals and deadlines, and the lack of a clear instructional vision.

The end result: While classroom use of the technology increased moderately from the initiative’s first year to its second, iPads and other ed tech were most frequently “used in ways that did not take advantage of the 1:1 device availability for students” and showed “limited potential to engage students in new or exciting learning opportunities.”

“LAUSD, of course, is past the point of starting small,” the evaluators concluded. “But the challenges of conducting a large pilot may yield some lessons learned for other districts grappling with rollout decisions.”

In a statement, the district acknowledged many of the widely publicized problems with its technology initiative and said it has already begun implementing some of AIR’s recommendations.

“We have made mid-course corrections and we are not giving up on the idea of providing all of our students with access to technology,” Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines said. “We remain committed to the use of classroom technology by our teachers and students.”

Originally called the Common Core Technology Project, the LAUSD’s technology initiative began in 2013 with a plan to quickly deliver iPads to every student and teacher in the nation’s second-largest district. The estimated price tag, including infrastructure upgrades, was $1 billion, to be funded through bonds.

But the program quickly ran into challenges, from mismanaged deployment to students circumventing the devices’ security features to major problems with the multi-million dollar digital curriculum that was supposed to come preloaded on all the devices.

Last summer, after local news outlets uncovered damaging emails between district leadership and the vendors selected to receive contracts, the district’s procurement process came under withering scrutiny. Superintendent John Deasy, Chief Academic Officer Jaime Aquino, and Chief Technology Officer Ronald Chandler have all resigned. An FBI investigation is ongoing.

A total of 101 Los Angeles schools now have computing devices through the program. Almost 36,000 iPads and 11,000 other mobile computing devices were distributed to students during the 2014-15 school year, with another 70,000 expected to be delivered in the coming school year.

An AIR report on the first year of the initiative affirmed the widespread media reports of mismanaged iPad deployment and called attention to the limited ways the devices were used in the classroom.

The independent evaluators’ current report covers the period from August 2014 to June 2015.

Among their key findings:

  • The LAUSD “made steady progress relative to the previous year” around deployment, training, and technical support,” but the district “has not yet arrived at a solution” for basic challenges such as communicating effectively with schools and distributing devices in a timely, predictable way.
  • Delays in distributing devices to some schools (in some cases, until as late as January or February) “discouraged some teachers from making the commitment to integrate technology into their classroom activities.”
  • Completing a planning course and technology-readiness checklist were supposed to be requirements for receiving devices, but many schools did not complete either prior to having devices deployed.
  • 26 schools implemented policies to allow students to take their devices home, mostly without incident. But the instructional benefit of those policies remained unclear.

Perhaps most troubling, though, was the continued evidence that new iPads and other technology have not been used deeply or effectively in Los Angeles classrooms.

Overall technology use in classrooms was up, with at least one iPad in use in nearly 70 percent of the classrooms that researchers observed.

But the most common uses of that technology involved a teacher delivering instruction to an entire class (61 percent of observed classrooms) and Internet research by students (40 percent.) Students were found to be far more likely to use their devices to listen to music, play games, or use social media (32 percent of observed classrooms) than write a paper (20 percent), conduct a math or science simulation (8 percent), read (7 percent) or analyze data and information (6 percent.)

In its statement, the district said that it has already delivered most of the devices on schedule to be deployed this year, with the rest expected to be in schools by mid-September.

New device-tracking strategies and professional development opportunities are also being rolled out, the district said.

And a “strategic plan that details how the computers will be used as an instructional tool and how parents will be involved in the process” must be centrally approved before devices can be distributed to students, according to the release.

Two such plans have to date been approved.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.