LA Unified School District's defunct 'iPad-for-all' plan botched from start, federal report says

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According to a federal study, the Los Angeles Unified School District's $1.3 billion push to bring tech into the classroom was crippled early on by inadequate planning and over-reliance on Apple's iPad.

A U.S. Education Department review found the LAUSD iPad in education initiative, first announced last June, to be fraught with financial and administrative problems from its inception, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Headed by Richard Culatta, director of the Office of Educational Technology, the review found "iPad-for-all" put too strong an emphasis on Apple's hardware and software ecosystem, distracting from less-expensive options that could have saved money. In July, it was reported the L.A. Unified would move away from an iPad-only rollout to include Google's Chromebook and Windows devices, including Microsoft's Surface 2.

LAUSD officials formally axed the iPad program in December, with blowback from the decision playing a part in the resignation of former Superintendent John Deasy and former head of technology Ronald Chandler.

Aside from an overwhelming financial burden, the erstwhile project also failed to properly educate teachers on how to best implement Apple's tablets into classroom curricula, the report said. Senior management involved in the program also failed to pass along concerns and issues in a timely manner, allowing them to grow into larger problems, according to the publication.

"Among the most significant gaps we identified was the absence of district-wide instructional technology leadership," the report said. On the point of relying on Apple's iPad, the review said LAUSD was too "heavily dependent on a single commercial product for providing digital learning resources, which has plagued the project since the initial rollout."

Another sticking point is the apparent lack of an evaluation framework. The federal report notes the problem is ongoing, saying some schools "have not developed plans for how the devices will be used to support learning [...] As a result, there is no common vision for how devices should be shifting learning and teaching within schools, making measuring impact difficult, if even possible."

The district used voter-approved bonds to fund "iPad-for-all," initially seeding 47 schools with $30 million worth of Apple hardware. An aggressive rollout timeline saw an additional $115 million spent on expansions to other campuses, but questions soon arose as the district fought to manage a critical budget crunch over the program. It was later discovered that LAUSD misunderstood Apple's bulk purchase discount terms, which held that the district would become eligible for special pricing only after $400 million worth of iPads were purchased.