As the tab for L.A. Unified’s iPads grows, so does the confusion


Is the iPad-for-every-student program in Los Angeles schools making sense yet?

After all the early revelations about problems with the iPad rollout, the school board seemed determined to get things under control, slowing the over-quick purchase of hundreds of thousands of the devices. The technology launch was to cost about $1 billion, half for the iPads and half to upgrade schools with Wi-Fi capacity.

Some of the early problems were, if not resolved, at least addressed and improvements made. But according to a recent report by KPCC radio, the price tag for the Wi-Fi upgrades has increased by $300 million. Considering the cost for that part was originally supposed to be $500,000, that’s a price jump of more than 50%.


According to KPCC:

“Officials did not take into account which schools were Wi-Fi ready at the start of the iPad program, so thousands of iPads went to schools that weren’t equipped to get them online.

“District officials have been scrambling this year to schedule upgrades. At a committee meeting last week, they reported 225 school sites now have enough bandwidth for all students to have iPads. The remaining 524 still aren’t Wi-Fi ready.”

Meanwhile, according to a story this week in The Times, district officials still can’t get their hands on the full curriculum that L.A. Unified bought with some of the devices. (It cut back on purchasing more iPads with the Pearson curriculum after another Times report pointed out that other districts nationwide were paying considerably less for technology for their students.)

And L.A. School Report, an Internet site that reports extensively on the district, reported that questions were raised at a district committee meeting last week about whether students could take their iPads home. The answer seemed unclear, but many parents have protested that they do not want to be held responsible for such expensive devices.

There can be such a thing as too many worries — and overly high expectations — when it comes to a project this big. At some point, the only way to find out whether students can safely take their iPads home is to let a significant number of them do it and see what happens. What if they don’t lose and harm their devices? What if all the concern is over nothing?

That’s why The Times’ editorial board has favored a slow rollout. It’s better to discover and solve problems when a lot fewer devices are involved.

But it’s easy to understand why so many administrators, teachers and parents aren’t iPad fans yet. Some mistakes are inevitable in a venture this new. But the number and types of mistakes have been discouraging, perhaps even somewhat alarming. The district was paying too much at first, and for curriculum of uncertain value. It hadn’t nailed down what would happen when Apple rolled out newer iPad models, which the computer company did only months after the first phase of the rollout began. It didn’t examine whether high school students might be better off with laptops, or take a comprehensive inventory of existing technology at its schools. And now the Wi-Fi part of the project might cost $300 million more than expected?

Worse, district leaders kept saying they had everything under control — when they didn’t. Doing innovative things involves risk, but those risks should have been better calculated.


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