Lessons from the Los Angeles School District iPad fiasco

“The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) learned some tough lessons with its iPad rollout,” John Martellaro writes for The Mac Observer. “The L.A. Times told the story, but there is much to ponder in scenarios like this.”

“The article doesn’t go into great detail about curriculum issues, but reading between the lines, I got the feeling that not a lot of thought was put into matching the capabilities of the iPad with the curriculum goals,” Martellaro writes. “One strong hint is cited from Carolyn McKnight, principal of the East Los Angeles Performing Arts Magnet, who was quoted: ‘Students were more comfortable on the laptop because of the amount of writing and the size of the screen,’ she said. ‘It was really hard to see the whole problem on the iPad.’ She’s referring to the size of the iPad display and how it displayed standardized tests.”

Martellaro writes, “Throughout my career, in education and government, I’ve seen these effects. Purchase authority is exercised by those who have the least technical expertise. Those who have the expertise have no say in the process. Piecemeal test projects fail to generate the desired political clout and glory and are bypassed, and those at the bottom are burdened beyond belief by projects they had little say in, no control over nor adequate preparation and training.”

Read more in the full article here.

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  1. A friend from New Providence, NJ visited last weekend. He was telling me how well implemented iPads are in his son’s school district. Leaving school, iPads are automatically loaded with student homework assignments. When the kids walk into school the following day, their completed assignments are automatically synched to school systems. Backpacks no longer weigh kids down.


    Friend son’s high school was ranked the best in entire state of NJ.

    As John Martellaro states, you’ve got to know what you are doing to succeed. Folks in NJ got it right. The LA crowd got it all wrong, it appears.

    1. I remember the expression, “So goes California, goes the Nation!” “The LA crowd got it all wrong, it appears.” Not the only thing the LA crowd got wrong would explain so much.

  2. Similar complaints here in Arizona. Students have told me that they prefer laptops – larger screen, keyboard, flash support.

    Macbook Air is incredibly popular with Students, the iPad or other tablets not so much.

    Interestingly, many of the kids prefer traditional books because they can read them outside.

    The iPad will be popular in education but the teachers need to be given time to find the best way to utilize them.

    1. Education administrators live in a very narrow bubble protected by all their administrative rules and never have had to deal with the real world where their students will work.

      If you are a non-technical person doing repetitive tasks, like entering patient or customer info or fast food orders, then an iPad is terrific. That may be OK for the first two quintiles in the student body, but what about the others?

      If you are creating in large documents or projects, there is simply no EFFICIENT way to do that without a larger screen and keyboard and even with a high powered mouse in some cases, like for 3D CAD/CAM.

      One VERY good reason for a laptop is that in large projects use a dozen different file types. you need to manage your diverse files in folders in a file system that you can see to keep it all straight.

      The the last reason for laptops over tablets is you very often wind up with 4 different applications open at once where you are copying and pasting info between them.

      And yes I’ve run 3D CAD on a MBAir.

    2. School are site (location) specific and education is student specific, class specific. I teach in Arizona and a lot of my students use iPads in class and it handles their education needs just fine. I have only had 2 students in 5 years bring laptops to class. I am sure the laptops fitted their needs. I don’t see a problem with unfettered use of technology like this in classrooms. We would probably be better served discussing the use of self-discipline when using tech in any arena. iPads can be extremely helpful in organizing for certain students and a gateway to the web in many cases. To each their own. I use my iPad Air everyday all day in class, so I don’t see why students should not or cannot. I write my lesson plans, take attendance, present videos and keynotes, and use mapping technology. Totally beneficial in my specific case.

  3. This article doesn’t even begin to touch the surface of the number of problems such a tremendous roll out has when layered on top of the massively complex environment of LA City Schools.

    The entire project should have started with, “How do we break up the LA City Schools District?”

    1. Thelonius, to put some statistics to work for your argument:

      The LA county school district has more administrators than teachers.

      It is hard to conceive of such a top heavy institution. Can you imagine running a Fortune 500 company or the military with more officers than worker/soldiers???

  4. I work in a school using Windows laptops, and the few netbooks from the previous year. that still survive. We all tend to be optimistic at the beginning of the year because over the summer the IT staff has re-imaged 6,000 computers, and they work fairly well at the beginning. I can’t imagine the issues if every student had their own school supplied unit, 14,000 would be insane. By the end of the year, 20-30% are not useable due to having been used by many different students. It’s the same every year. Mechanically, all the Windows units have poor keyboard life, a lot of that is student abuse, but with 20-30 students in each class, its virtually impossible to physically view every students usage. Don’t give me the “should” routine on that, I know what should happen but I have to live an a world of what “does” happen.

    Having said that, anyone who thinks that you can type a 5-10 page English or Social Studies essay on an iPad virtual keyboard is OUT OF THEIR MIND!!!!!! The same would be true for any tablet. Sorry, but touch technology use is very limited in the real world on any large scale. Some very simple apps, yes, and if you really look at it, 95% of all touch apps are actually very simple by necessity.

    Personally I use my iPad with an Apple wireless keyboard, kind of a pain to drag it around in my bag, but it works very well. I work in 6 different classes during the day. The district IT staff is Mac and iPad is very friendly and I think most of them would prefer if we did go all Apple but as John Martarello said, the least technologically knowledgable make the decisions, that’s inherent in any bureaucracy. In other words, whenever there are more than two levels of decision making. And there are MANY more than that.

    The only way to have any real accountability would be to assign individual technology to each student and make them financially accountable, but then the school district would have to hire at least one full time lawyer to deal with the parents when little Jonnie or Suzy damages a computer. I am NOT kidding.

    I am a daily computer user since 1978, Mac user since 1988, and still not totally on board with computer use in schools. They have their uses, but they are anything but a panacea for every educational problem. A tool like a pencil, paper etc, but every tool has its use and its limitations. I know the “theory” of it all, how its “supposed” to work, but there will always be the human factors.

    Keep trying? Yes, but its not a silver bullet.

    1. Not likely to get an unbiased opinion here. If you don’t gush over every thing Apple you are pounced upon by fanboys. Yours seems to be the exception. I love my iPad but like you, I’m not sure that computers are the answer in schools. They have their place certainly, but they don’t make students study harder. If anything, they can be a great distraction. Let’s face it, the student who wants to learn will learn with a book or a computer. It makes no difference. That’s entirely up to the student, the parents and to some degree the teacher. Teacher, those people who work about eight months a year yet still complain about how hard their lives are. They wouldn’t know hard work if it hit them between the eyes. They don’t work eight hours a day, they have free hours during the day. They’re never dirty, hot or cold. Their jobs are not dangerous. They don’t know what it’s like to work evenings, midnights, weekends and holidays. They don’t know what it’s like to do doubles or 24 hours straight. They don’t know what it’s like to be on call 24/7 every four weeks. I have all of the above. All the time. Teachers get two weeks off at Christmas. That’s all that most people get all year long. Then they get a week in the spring. And then there’s those “teacher days’s” sprinkled throughout the school year. And of course all summer off. And all of that on your tax dollar. Try to fire a teacher. The teachers union won’t let you. The teachers union stacks the school board with its own so contracts and raises go through every time. And in the rare instance when it doesn’t, the teachers are outside walking in front of the school with placards claiming they are being mistreated. But “it’s all for the kids”. Yeah, bullshit!

      1. I suspect you being down voted here has nothing to do with Apple products but are by people who actually know how hard a teachers’ work day is that does not begin and end with the school bell. My friends who are teachers put in practically 70-80 hrs a week preparing lessons, correcting homework, counseling students, etc. It is a job that requires a lot of dedication and it doesn’t help that there are a few bad apples protected by unions that give the profession a bad name.

  5. Also a key factor: the vanity of the new “reformer” superintindent, who’s repeatedly referred to the act of supplying poor children with iPads as “a civil rights issue.”

      1. I could not agree more. But after the teachers and administrators are fired, we need to close down the school district and give the parents with children vouchers that they can use at the school of their choice. The market would then create schools with various orientations that give parents and children an actual choice in the type of education they prefer.

        But, but, but people would say, this can never work because:
        – How would the unions organize all the teachers?
        – How would the government insure all the kids get the official government sanctioned education?
        – How could we insure a school doesn’t cater to only black kids or Asian kids or German kids or kids with red hair?
        – What if these non-government schools employed teachers without a teaching degree, like engineers to teach math and scientists to teach science and French-speaking people to teach French.

        Obviously, this type of system could never work. We are so much better off flushing our money down the toilet labeled public schools.

        1. … the LA school system, but YOU, sir …
          Take your civilization-disrupting Tea-bagger rhetoric and go back to your hermitage with it. You criticize those who want America to offer Equal Opportunity for All … did they teach that in the grade school you attended? If you missed that lesson, you are not a true American!

  6. Proper setup of an iPad like NJ and it can be a marvelous tool. Do it like LA, and it just won’t work because they didn’t even try to properly setup all the tools they needed. There apps weren’t made for an iPad and they didn’t even setup the proper security. Everyone here knows full well if in iPad is setup correctly it works like a charm. There answer to the iPad is even more hilarious. They just bought Surface Pro 2’s and a bunch of PC’s. Yea, that will fix your security problems, NOT!!!!!!!!!!

  7. I feel Apple could have done more to accommodate this important sector. iTunes U, for example, should have seen major updates 3/4 years ago and tightly integrated with this iPad push. If Apple is guilty of not having done everything within reason (and often beyond) to keep their customers satisfied, they have dropped the ball.

    1. Until Pearson, who prints most of the $95 (or more) textbooks can find a way to get a cut (and they are working on it) it will always be an uphill battle, in addition to the ones that we have been discussing.

  8. I LOVE my iPad Air . That said, if I were back in school and had to write papers, that’s the last device I’d want to use, even with the bluetooth keyboard I have for it. My MBP is much more suited (and much more comfortable) to do the job.

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