What Really Happened to LA’s iPad Implementation

I wrote a post a few months ago commending LAPS for their bravery in the implementation of a 1:1 iPad program. As I’m sure you might be aware, they recently announced suspension of this contract and halted the distribution of these devices. This abrupt end to what was the highest profile ed tech implementation ever leaves a lot of questions for those of us who are interested, and when questions are left unanswered, people start to make things up. We have popular technology websites stating that the iPad revolution has stalled out, not making a single mention of the actual reasons behind the cancellation. Newspapers are calling it a scandal, citing “close personal ties between the LA superintendent and the top executives at Apple and Pearson.” Fans of Google are clinking glasses because the iPad failed in its most high profile deployment yet, and fans of Apple are saying it wasn’t their fault.

Don't worry John, it wasn't that bad.

Don’t worry John, it wasn’t that bad.

This entire media hurricane is a microcosm of the biggest problems we have in our school system, in educational technology, and in the business surrounding it today: nobody seems ready to confront the truth. Instead, we like to make things up in an effort to “hit it big” on the ed tech market or craft a political power play over a superintendent. We seem more keen on proving which hardware provider is best, exposing the “corruption” that is rampant in every branch of government and business, not just school systems, making money off of visibility on a news site, and anything else but truth surrounding schools. The bidding process for the iPad contract in LA was skewed by a business relationship between the superintendent and Apple/Pearson. So what? This is how the world operates. I bet somebody at the LA Times got a job simply because they knew a hiring officer. In fact, it’s a good thing that the superintendent of LAPS has a close relationship with executives at Pearson and Apple. Should it influence his decisions? Absolutely. Should it be the sole contributing factor? No, and that’s why people may have a point about accusing this superintendent of allowing. Do you want to talk about the ageless Apple vs. Google war? I’m not interested, because these things have nothing to do with the real issues at hand with this deployment.

In fact, the issues at hand are quite simple. Schools are not ready for this kind of technology. It’s true. As long as the people in charge of spending have no clue how to implement the devices they’re buying themselves, schools will never be ready. We need to slow down. Time wrote this great article about a realistic picture of what it takes for a school to go digital. Read it. This article paints a picture of immense support, communication, and digital community for a successful 1:1 implementation. It’s such a demanding task, in fact, that many schools or districts are simply not able to accomplish it. And then there’s the cost. I promise you, I’ve done the math about a million times, investing in 1:1 technology will save schools money. But these schools have to be prepared to cut the costs that are no longer needed. Library funds must be invested online. Going paperless saves schools hundreds of thousands of dollars every year by cutting printer, copier, and other associated costs, but they have to be cut. We made Planner because it saves schools money by switching to a digital planbook. These hard decisions must be made and made correctly. A school can’t invest in 1:1 technology, not cut its paper-based spending, and then expect the cost to work out. In a giant district like LAPS, this is far more difficult. I could go on and on here but it’s the truth: many schools are simply not ready.

Private and charter schools have marginally more success because they’re smaller and more nimble than sprawling public school systems. They’re able to acquire the right staff. They can make tough decisions without a board vote and several months of vetting. They are able to provide support on a deep level for almost every school initiative, including tech products. With technology, these things are not luxuries, but they’re essential. Until schools learn to operate in this way, they will remain unprepared for issues that arose during LAPS’ now-case-study.

My suggestion as a takeaway from this debacle is as simple as the issues involved with it: start small. Start with small technological goals in your school and knock them out of the park. Set small, wildly achievable goals so your school can gain confidence and practice in implementing technology. Then, include the staff on the decision for the first big implementation. Ask your staff if they want a 1:1 program, an LMS, custom software for your school, or something else. Include the primary stakeholders in the purchasing process. Then, ask prospective vendors about the levels of support they provide. Demand higher quality services and products from your ed tech, and you will receive it. Schools must learn this valuable lesson, otherwise, LAPS will happen over and over again, it will continue to cloud the facts associated with educational technology in schools, and it will slow down our progress as educators.

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