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Los Angeles Unified School District's Costly iPad Program Reassessed

Brianna Sacks, Sara Newman, Elisabeth Roberts, Alexa Liacko, Emmanuel Martinez |
November 5, 2013 | 4:29 p.m. PST

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The Los Angeles Unified School District has been considering how to best allocate funds from its bolstered $7 billion budget to prepare schools for a new set of the rigorous math and English standards that have been phased in since this summer, as well as a complicated and pricey new iPad program.

In September, L.A. Unified slated $113 million to revamp how students learn. Known as Common Core, the national curriculum is designed to standardize education throughout the United States.  

The board dedicated $25 million to elevating 162 teachers to leadership positions to help less-experienced L.A. Unified educators transition, and $15 million for teacher training.

SEE ALSO: L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy Here To Stay Despite Controversy

The district has also dolled out $1-billion on a controversial iPad program set to supply over 600,000 students and their teachers with brand-new iPads fully equipped with Pearson software to help digitize the transition to the new curriculum. So far, the tablets have hit about 40 schools.

But the iPad rollout, spearheaded by Supt. John Deasy, has been a bumpy ride.

A host of students have already hacked the tablets to gain access to sites like Facebook and Twitter. A few iPads have gone missing. Some have suffered damages.

Board members and critics say the biggest hangup is the ballooning price tag.

Each iPad now costs $770, an unexpected $100 increase from the initial price estimate, the school district is starting to reconsider its options.

The committee estimates that LA Unified will spend up to $252 million buying or upgrading iPads over three years, starting in 2016. That number does not include the cost of on-going iPad maintenance, which is projected to come in just below $12 million for the 2016-17 school year.

L.A. Unified Deputy Superintendent Jaimie Aquino recommended the school board extend the timeline for the district-wide iPad rollout that would put tablets on all LAUSD campuses to fall 2015 rather than the original target date of 2014.

Board members who first approved the funding of district-wide iPad distribution appear wary of the extraordinary expense involved to maintain them. The Tuesday morning presentation led by board member and chair of the Common Core Technology Project committee, Monica Ratliff, laid out plans for providing “mobile devices” through the 2018-2019 school year, but avoids specifying that LAUSD will continue relying on Apple products.

However, many parents and education groups say the iPad program gives lower-income students who are already "oo far behind the technology curve" a crucial chance to catch up.

In a letter to the seven district board members, a collection of groups, including United Way, Families In Schools, Inner City Struggle and the Community Coalition, fought to continue the program:

"Access to technology is not a luxury – it’s a basic necessity. Many students in our district lack access to technology at home," the groups' presidents said. "At a time when the ability to use computers, smart phones and tablets to learn, grow and communicate is more important than ever, these students are at a disadvantage through no fault of their own. The school technology program will help level the playing field and give everyone a fair shot."

See how L.A. Unified student Jayla Hill and 54th Elementary Principal Arlene Fortier use the new iPad and Pearson software:

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But the district also has to face unknown future expenses of updating and expanding the digital curriculum that could squeeze needed dollars out of the iPad program's pocket.

Eventually, the school district may decide to transfer to less costly generic tablets in order to maintain the school district’s technology focus without the same extremity of expenditures with which the school district is currently grappling.

Hear what one elementary school principal thinks about the iPad project:


This story was produced by Annenberg's three daily media outlets, ARN, ATVN and Neon Tommy, and Strategic Public Relations Studies students conducting up-to-the-minute social media analysis.



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