The idea of equipping every Los Angeles Unified student and teacher with a computer suffered its final blow with the announcement last week that the school district simply couldn't afford to buy some 700,000 of them. If ever a proposal was half-baked, it was the iPad project, which was marked by a lamentable lack of planning, grave concerns over the enormous price tag, and an ongoing criminal grand jury investigation into possible ethics violations on the part of district officials.
But this shouldn't be the last word about the ill-conceived iPad proposal by former Supt. John Deasy. Though he mishandled the project on multiple fronts, he was right about this: Education without access to technology is unthinkable today. It's the modern-day equivalent of sticking kids in a one-room schoolhouse with a slate board and chalk.
L.A. Unified must buy more technology; its students would be left woefully behind the college-and-employment curve without it. The current lack of funding for a massive iPad purchase creates a much-needed time-out, though, so that L.A. Unified can do it right next time. Here are some things the district needs to do:
Identify an appropriate funding source. For the $1.3-billion program, the district justifiably turned to construction bonds to pay for $800 million in Internet infrastructure at schools. But the proposal to spend $500 million of the bond revenue on the iPads, which have a life span of a few years, was inappropriate because it sought to use long-term funds for short-term purposes. L.A. Unified should set aside a yearly sum in its operating budget for purchasing technology as state funding improves, and should buy its devices over time. This would allow for better budget planning and make the process more affordable — and also would allow the district to bring in the most recent technology and try out new devices to find the best ones.
Curriculum before technology. A federal review of the now-defunct iPad project found that L.A. Unified was focused on buying technology with too little idea of how it would be used in classrooms. It bought a packaged curriculum that was widely criticized as poorly written. But there is lots of good educational software in existence — some of it free or relatively inexpensive. The district should first look for the best software and then pick the hardware that's most compatible with the curriculum for each grade.
Consult teachers. See above. Creative and tech-savvy teachers have been finding all kinds of helpful and free educational software on the Internet. District leaders should seek out and reward their ideas.
Don't worry too much about security filters. The early rollout of the iPad program was quickly embarrassed by students who maneuvered around security safeguards to access social media. This isn't the horror people made of it. Students will be using technology all their lives; better to teach them about responsible use than to try to control every move they make online.