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Mixed reaction to iPad rollout from L.A. teachers and administrators

Apple iPadLos Angeles Unified School DistrictJohn DeasyStanford University

It would seem Robert J. Moreau, a computer animation teacher who struggled for grants to set up a lab, would be among the first to applaud the $1-billion iPad program in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

But he's not.

"It's outrageous, appalling, that we are buying these toys when we don't have adequate personnel to clean, to supervise," said the Roosevelt High School instructor. "Classrooms are overcrowded, and my room has not been swept or mopped in years except by me and the students.... It would be great if the basics were met. I can't get past that."

Revere Middle School Principal Fern Somoza, meanwhile, praised the effort to provide every administrator, teacher and student in the nation's second-largest school district with the Apple tablets.

"The good-old days are today," Somoza said.

In an effort to determine how the iPad rollout is going and how to improve it, a Board of Education member and employee unions conducted surveys of teachers and administrators. Their anonymous responses: Just 36% of teachers strongly favored continuing the effort; 90% of administrators felt the same.

Few question the goal of supplying and properly using up-to-date technology. Schools Supt. John Deasy has pushed hard for the tablets, calling it a civil rights imperative to give all students access to technology used by the more affluent.

But problems plagued the project from the start. When the first group of campuses received the tablets this fall, more than 300 students at three high schools almost immediately removed security filters so they could freely browse the Internet. All of the students at these schools had to surrender the tablets. Questions quickly arose about whether parents are responsible if the devices are lost or stolen. The price of the tablets — $768 apiece — and the curriculum licensing fees also became issues.

The Board of Education held a special meeting to discuss these and other issues and ultimately slowed the rollout that began at 47 campuses. The plan now is to add 38 schools by the end of the academic year, and then finish the distribution, after an evaluation, within the next three years.

Although the surveys weren't scientific samples, "it was really important to get feedback from the principals and teachers who were actually involved in the rollout and see what we could learn," said school board member Monica Ratliff. She chairs the board's technology committee, and her office helped prepare the surveys.

"We learned ... that people do tend to like them. Students do find them engaging, but there have been some serious glitches," Ratliff said. "I was surprised by the number of teacher comments that mentioned difficulty with the wireless connectivity."

Senior administrators have insisted that all the schools in the first group had the necessary broadband and wireless connections.

But this teacher's comment echoed others: "The system keeps going down, which makes it impossible to utilize the iPads in the way that the district desired."

Nearly three-quarters had problems connecting or sending and receiving data quickly.

United Teachers Los Angeles said that 15% of the eligible teachers took part in their survey. The union blamed the low participation on a lack of time and the number of questions.

Among participants, more were comfortable with using the iPad for instruction (44%) than were not (34%). And 70% believed iPads would increase student motivation.

Still, nearly half criticized the curriculum on the iPad, which is supplied by Pearson, compared with 27% who said they liked it. More than half cited problems with security, applications, signing on and storage.

The limited enthusiasm among teachers can partly be explained by "innovation fatigue," said Paulo Blikstein, an assistant professor of education at Stanford University who has helped schools with technology.

Teachers, he said, have new ideas thrust upon them repeatedly with insufficient support: "They say: 'I know what's going to happen. It will be pushed on us, and in two years there will be nothing here.'"

A majority of teachers said they were using the iPads three hours a week or less. One possible reason is that teachers overwhelmingly said they had received inadequate training.

"It's a good idea, the iPads, but they didn't prepare the teachers," said Roosevelt social studies teacher Christopher Berru.

Apple provided one day of training on the devices, while Pearson provided two on its curriculum; only a portion of it has been available so far.

"For me, it wasn't enough," Berru said.

Officials said they now realize more training is needed on applications, on managing classrooms with iPads and on teaching students how to take responsibility for the devices. They also recently proposed giving teachers the devices at least half a year ahead of the students.

"The learning curve is for the adults," said Sharon Pourroy, a second-grade teacher at Kentwood Elementary who spoke to the school board recently in praise of the tablets. In her class, students already are using the devices for projects.

Administrators at about half the schools responded to their survey. Most said their campuses were not yet using the curriculum on the iPads. But among those that were, the materials got high marks.

Their concerns include how to get badly needed additional training for teachers.

The reaction was generally supportive, but less so than the rave reviews reported from the field by senior district administrators, said Judith Perez, who heads the administrators union.

Somoza, of Revere, is an enthusiast, but she also told the Board of Education that she had to wait for weeks to accept the iPads until the district set up a locked room in which to keep them. Like other administrators, she had a problem with her Internet connection but praised district technicians for responding promptly.

Principal Mary Ann Sullivan, of 24th Street Elementary, is still awaiting the devices but said she can't wait to see what her young, tech-savvy faculty could do with them.

Westchester High was among the schools where all students had to relinquish their iPads. Principal Robert Canosa-Carr hopes to return them by January.

"Of course, people really wish we'd been able to successfully roll them out from Day 1, but the feeling is still very positive," Canosa-Carr said. "A lot of teachers are eager to use them and have lesson plans ready to go."

But many also challenged L.A. Unified's priorities in spending school construction bonds for the tablets.

Moreau, who responded to the survey, blames L.A. Unified — not his school — for the problems and worries that his campus and others will suffer as a result.

"The next time we cry for money," he said, "this is going to be brought up as a big waste."

howard.blume@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Apple iPadLos Angeles Unified School DistrictJohn DeasyStanford University
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