Guest post by Roberta Eidman, MPH, a Los Angeles community member.
On October 29th, the LAUSD School Board will review Superintendent John Deasy’s controversial One-to-One i-Pad initiative. Parents, teacher and press have criticized the project for its $1B price tag, use of bond funding, security glitches and absence of instructional planning. Still, Deasy is determined to forge ahead into Phase II, with no time out to learn from Phase I.
Let’s hope Deasy can present more than a plea to civil rights. He should attend a Special Common Core Technology Project Ad Hoc Committee meeting on Tuesday October 22nd, at 5:30 PM. It’s an open meeting, the public is welcome.
I wanted to learn how 1:1 projects are going in other states, so I did some research. 1:1 initiatives are key components of America’s drive toward data-driven pedagogy, standardized testing and Common Core State Standards. One-to-One has been around for a while, evolving as tech evolved. Back in the day, 1:1 meant laptops; then notebooks. Now it can be any number of handhelds from competing vendors. Devices come with proprietary apps from developers angling for a share of the immense academic marketplace.
The numbers are staggering, spurred along by NCLB and RT3 incentives. Here is balloon map of recent 1:1 i-Pad deployments (the LAUSD purchase of 600,000 units is not included). I’ve found estimates online for HP and Android deployments too.
1:1 projects are a Gold Mine for corporations. The up-front price is impressive; devices have short lives and software changes continually, so repeat orders and updates are frequent. The private sector is well served. Are students and teachers equally well served?
I’ve worked in both tech and teaching. Technology is not teaching.
I wanted to learn more about the pre-planning required for a successful 1:1 project in a public school setting. I stumbled upon the One-to-One Institute. OTO is a non-profit consultancy at the School of Education, University of Michigan. This group emerged from Michigan’s state-wide Freedom to Learn Initiative. (Maine also has a statewide initiative.) OTO lists several high-profile projects. The OTO website lists two financial contributors: HP and Intel. As early as 2003, HP/Intel was named the sole device provider of Michigan’s FTL. The state allocated $7.5 million to provide 23,000 students and 1,500 teachers a custom HP device, outfitted with edware. State and academic support was allocated, and evaluations were done regularly. Even with coordinated planning, end results remain encouraging but mixed. With MI’s budget problems, there were times FTL was defunded in light of its unclear impact on test scores and learning. The program has been rebooted, and still continues.
California does not have a statewide 1:1 plan. Districts are free to proceed with their own options. Before LAUSD’s purchase, San Diego Unified School District was the i-Pad leader with 26,000 units. LAUSD seems securely in Apple’s thrall. Superintendent John Deasy was spotlighted in Apple videos and media events.
The Director of Department of Instruction/CCSS Technology Unit was formerly a principal at LAUSD’s Melrose School. That campus received the ‘Apple Distinguished School’ designation for its tech programs. The title – good for one year only – stipulates the school must have an ongoing 1:1 program using Apple devices. No recognition for academic achievement by students or excellence in teaching — just lots of Apple devices purchased.
The CCSS Technology unit opened for business the same month the i-Pad contract was inked – July 2013. In August 2013, K-12 classes resumed after summer vacation. Teachers who previously taught using textbooks and paper tests learned that new devices are will be in the hands of students shortly. To gets 30,000 teachers up-to-speed, LAUSD enlisted twelve Learning Coordinators. You read it right – 12. The LC’s are teachers who will visit District schools to help them teachers teach using i-Pads in lesson plans and exercises.
There are successful deployments to be sure. The Henrico County Public Schools did a gradual rollout starting at lowest grades and provided training to 77% of its teaching staff. The Irving Independent School District slowly developed its laptop program, starting with teachers first. East Rock Magnet School of New Haven CT did a smaller rollout of laptops to its 3rd and 4th graders and had very satisfying and manageable results. Slow, limited roll outs over time seems to work best.
Problems are most likely to surface when there is no top-level project management and academic pre-planning fully assigned to the initiative. Here’s a recent case, from a district much smaller than LAUSD. Fort Bend ISD (TX) rolled out 6,500 Apple i-Pads equipped with iAchieve educational software to students at 14 sites; the project cost this cash-strapped district $16 million. It may have cost the Superintendent and the District’s CIO their jobs. Rollout was so poorly handled that a public inquiry was ordered by the NEW Superintendent, Charles Dupre. The report blamed poor planning and the inadequacy of two consulting groups put in charge of implementation. The program was halted.
LAUSD is the second largest school district in the USA, after New York City. Superintendents of major districts are well positioned for opportunities.
Media mogul Rupert Murdoch decided to compete for the lucrative market. He launched the Amplify Education subsidiary; it partners with Google and former NYC School Chancellor, Joel Klein. Amplify uses Google’s Android operating system and is comparatively inexpensive ($299). Unfortunately, Amplify had a 1:1 setback in Guilford County Schools, North Carolina. Its 15,000 tablets packed with Google apps and edware had a 10% breakage rate in the first month. It also had persistent (and dangerous) power supply problems. Another recall.
We’re in the middle of a national OMG moment in education. Since the early 90’s private corporations have been busy re-imaging our world. They are advancing a vision of devices connecting to a single rapt student, interacting with a cloud via keyboards and touch screens. (The teacher would observe quietly in the back of the room.) There is a price for this vision. It requires we reduce the role of human teachers, counselors, nurses and physical activity. We have no reason to insist on smaller class sizes. Once our children are lost in the clouds, how much space do they need?
Perhaps eventually, we can get rid of human instructors and mentors entirely. Murdoch’s Amplify tablets are pre-installed with videos from MOOC producer Khan Academy. How big a hint do you need?