Classroom Technology

L.A. Mulls Proposed Settlement With Apple, Lenovo Over Troubled Tech Project

By Sean Cavanagh — September 29, 2015 2 min read
Students photograph themselves with an iPad during a class at Broadacres Elementary School in Carson, Calif.
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The superintendent of the Los Angeles schools says the district has reached a tentative $6.4 million settlement with two major technology providers, Apple and Lenovo, stemming from the system’s ambitious but problem-plagued 1-to-1 digital rollout.

Apple, which provided thousands of iPads for the project, would pay $4.2 million under the proposed deal, schools chief Ramon C. Cortines told board members in a memo this month.

Lenovo, meanwhile, would chip in $2.2 million in the form of a credit, said Cortines, as reported by the radio station KPCC.

The vast majority of the companies’ payments would be spent on capital investments, with about $200,000 going back to the district’s general fund.

A spokeswoman for the district, Shannon Haber, noted that the proposed settlement is not yet final, and will still have to be considered by the school board, probably in the next few weeks.

The Los Angeles school district’s effort to put a device in the hands of every student and educator represented what was undoutedly one of the biggest ed-tech projects in the nation’s history. But almost from its inception, trouble swirled around the massive effort, which was expected to carry a $1 billion pricetag.

A digital curriculum designed by Pearson, which was supposed to be pre-loaded on Apple iPads, wasn’t ready, various L.A. school officials said. Students circumvented security features on the devices.

And news reports have unearthed emails between district leaders and company officials that have prompted questions about whether Apple and Pearson had an inside track on that security work. (District leaders involved in the project, including former Superintendent John Deasy, have strongly denied any wrongdoing, saying those communications were routine.)

A dramatic turn came late last year, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided district offices, seizing records related to the project’s procurement.

Cortines and other district officials have since said that they are going forward with a modified version of the plan, one which includes a stronger focus on tracking how devices are used, on professional development for teachers, and other improvements.

A review conducted by the American Institutes for Research this year found that overall technology use in the district has increased. But it also concluded that the effort remains disorganized and ineffective, and that technology was not yet being used in especially rich or engaging ways.

In his memo to the board, Cortines said the L.A. system’s investments in technology have “set the stage for a districtwide transformation in how we educate students” but that so far, the digital rollout has benefited a “small subset of students.”

The settlement money would be used to help schools that have been left short on digital tools to catch up, he said.

There are many schools that “have a need for instructional technology and ideas for how to use it,” Cortines wrote. “The $6.4 million in proceeds represents an exciting opportunity to invest in such schools and promote collaboration among campuses.”

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