Bad ed tech deals continue to plague LAUSD — currently starting its second month of meltdown, the MiSiS student tracking and class scheduling software mandated by a court-ordered consent decree is a ticking time bomb for high school seniors who need transcripts in order to apply to college and finish classes in order to graduate in June. Special education students, for whom the tracking software was originally developed, are no better served than before the launch of the latest version of the software.
So it’s worth looking to see what kind of due diligence LAUSD did before embarking on its ill-advised iPad purchase under Superintendent Deasy. The Superintendent recently suddenly canceled the iPad contract with Apple and Pearson upon exposure of his chummy emails in 2011 and 2012 with the vendors who ultimately won the lucrative contract in July 2013.
The FCMAT, or Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, is a quasi-governmental agency created by the California legislature to act as an independent, external source of reliable fiscal and other information as school districts seek information to keep them well-managed and in good fiscal health. FCMAT helps districts with budget issues and performs audits and technology reviews upon request. According to the information on the FCMAT website,
The mission of the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team is to help California’s local educational agencies fulfill their financial and management responsibilities by providing fiscal advice, management assistance, training and other related school business services. The Kern County Superintendent of Schools office exists as the administrative and fiscal agent for FCMAT which currently operates within the context of several areas of the California Education Code, primarily those sections having to do with AB 1200 and AB 2756 oversight (EC 42127.1-.8, EC 41326, EC 41327). FCMAT reports to a board of directors comprised of one county superintendent and one district superintendent from each of the state’s 11 service regions. A representative of the California Department of Education also is on the board. Assembly Bill 1200 (AB1200) created FCMAT in 1991. The team can assist county offices of education in understanding their fiscal monitoring duties as required by AB1200, sometimes suggesting specific methods of carrying out the oversight responsibilities. FCMAT also provides management studies for school districts, county offices of education, charter schools and community colleges that request them. FCMAT coordinates statewide professional development efforts for school business officials.
Here is a very recent technology review that FCMAT performed for Dublin Unified School District prior to the district’s plan to expand hardware and software purchases to support instruction, testing, and school administration. It’s dated September 15, 2014.
In 2014 and 2013, FCMAT performed two technology audits for school districts around California in each year. In 2012, it performed five technology audits. In 2011, FCMAT performed two technology reviews; in 2010, four technology reviews; in 2009, six technology reviews.
One of the largest districts that sought a technology review was Fresno Unified School District, in 2007. Fresno is the fourth largest school district in the state, according to the California Department of Education. As you can see in the report reproduced below, FCMAT report authors conducted a six month long investigation into the district’s resources. They made recommendations for staffing changes and organizational shuffles to better use technology experts. The thorough report also addresses suggestions for hardware and broadband wireless infrastructure changes.
For comparison, San Diego Unified is the second largest school district in California. Prior to Los Angeles Unified’s purchase of iPads, SDUSD’s $10 million outlay for 26,000 Apple tablets in 2012 was one of the largest school district purchases to date. It was funded by a 2008 technology bond passed specifically to enhance the education and administrative technology used by the district. While no record of an FCMAT tech review exists, SDUSD did issue a 167-page district-generated report “District Technology Strategic Plan July 1, 2010 – June 30, 2015” (see below).
According to a summary in the report, the fact-finding and community discussion period leading up to the report’s genesis and release in 2010 took about one academic year. The SDUSD group facilitating the process was the Integrated Technology Support Services division within SDUSD (from embedded pdf above, page 3:
Integrated Technology Support Services (ITSS) Led by Chief Information & Technology Officer, Darryl LaGace, Integrated Technology Support Services (ITSS) is comprised of four primary teams (Information Technology, Software Applications, Educational Technology and Attendance) that directed work-group meetings to identify needs and provide recommendations for the effective development, management and support of instructional technology tools and resources, business and data systems, and network infrastructure to mange and support student learning. ITSS teams conducted extensive background planning sessions and provided information about the use of integrated information systems in both instruction and administration.
The ITSS group sought feedback from teachers, students, parents, administrators, community members, and the Board of Education before issuing the final report, after or in parallel with the passage of the technology bond intended to fund these purchases.
By contrast, Los Angeles Unified, already plagued by a 20-year delay in mounting a working student information system (the troubled ISisS system previously, now MiSiS, which was formally released in the fall of 2014) to track the progress and instructional needs of children who require Special Education, did not undertake a FCMAT technology review at any time after Superintendent John Deasy’s start of tenure with the the district in 2010. (A phone call to FCMAT confirms that no tech review was conducted for LAUSD on MiSiS in 2007 or any year after to date.)
Given the problems dating from 1996 and again in 2006 in putting a functioning student tracking and class scheduling software program in place, why didn’t Deasy immediately request a FCMAT technology review of MiSiS? LAUSD’s Office of the Independent Monitor (OIM) oversees the progress of LAUSD’s compliance with the consent decree, but it has neither the manpower or the expertise to delve into the progress of student tracking/classroom scheduling software. OIM reports are also lagging indicators of program compliance, not pro-active and pre-emptive troubleshooting of specific aspects of the consent decree. Nevertheless, the technology needs of the district should not have been considered apart from the needs of students and teachers in the classroom. Just look at how San Diego Unified tackled the question of how to address all aspects of the districts’s technology needs in its comprehensive strategic plan.
Why did Deasy not also begin a lengthy process of designing a strategic plan for technology in the district to find out the needs and wishes of stakeholders as San Diego Unified did?
Had Deasy done these two things perhaps he and LAUSD would not be ridiculed for the poor judgment, appearance of vendor favoritism, botched rollout and expense — tens of millions of dollars with few tablets in the hands of kids and no Pearson software to speak of until well after the July 2013 contract was signed.
The incompetence looms large. It’s hurting children directly. And ever since John Deasy lawyered up, there’s been no accountability from him with regard to MiSiS’ progress or a reasoned justification why he should be allowed to spend district money in a new round of RFPs when the last round was so poorly handled. That could be why the LAUSD Bond Oversight Committee severely curtailed the amount of money Deasy can spend on computers going forward at its latest meeting.