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On the Circuit October 2013

Oct 15, 2013 4:04 PM, By Cynthia Wisehart

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As we go to press, my head is going to explode from watching the L.A. Unified school district turn our iPad initiative into a technical and administrative fiasco.

I didn’t think it was possible to be this amateur at systems integration—to fail to think through the most basic issues and to set back the entire cause of school technology while wasting a billion dollars. I’m not estimating—it is a billion-dollar project—$500 million to buy iPads for every student and $500 million to expand bandwidth and train teachers. (You have to be trained on an iPad?)

Steve Jobs was passionate about replacing the textbook infrastructure with iPads. It went beyond wanting to sell iPads—it was a cause with him. The power of the textbook establishment frustrated him to no end. He would conjure the image of little kids with their bulging backpacks full of heavy textbooks that were getting more out-of-date every time they were dragged to school. I have a 6th grader. I can relate.

What I cannot relate to is LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, CIO Ronald Chandler, and Deputy Superintendent Jaime Aquino, who was in charge of the project and is resigning for an unspecified reason. Is it possible they don’t themselves use technology?

In an early sign of trouble, the district announced that the computerized district-wide standardized tests don’t work on iPads. The students will need keyboards—so that will be an additional unauthorized $28 million or so.

Then about a week into the rollout, students started simply deleting their security profiles so they could use the Internet at home without restrictions. Rather than looking at their insufficient IT admin policies, the district began recalling iPads and not allowing them to be taken home—defeating the purpose of having iPad textbooks. Because no one in the district knows how to set up admin rights 101?

Then came the political spin—with CIO Chandler basically saying “kids will be kids” and they must have had a good reason for breaking the rules and the district would look at relaxing the restrictions. Oops, oh well. Everybody makes iMistakes.

Finally, amid the scrambling, it comes out that there is no uniform policy for who is responsible for lost or damaged iPads. Parents may—or may not—be on the hook for replacement or repair. We don’t know yet.

These are not the unavoidable glitches on the road to changing the paradigm. This is straight up failure to plan, design, and execute. It’s hard to watch my school district do things I know something about. It makes me wonder how they handle the things I don’t know anything about. And it makes me sad and frustrated that the opportunity to change education for my daughter and her schoolmates is in the hands of grownups who can’t think about technology and didn’t ask for help from people who can. It’s not going to be easy to get another billion dollars to do it right.

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