September 27, 2013

L.A. schools' billion dollar iPad contract

From an editorial in the L.A. Times:
L.A. Unified's iPad plan doesn't compute 
The district's failure to resolve questions about theft, breakage and Web security is troubling. 
By The Times editorial board 
September 27, 2013 
It has been a year since Los Angeles Unified schools Supt. John Deasy proposed putting a tablet computer in the hands of every student in the district. At that time, there were numerous questions about how and whether this would work. Could first-graders really take care of such expensive equipment? Who would be held responsible if one of the devices was stolen, lost or broken, or if apple juice was dripped into the circuitry? How would the district keep high-schoolers off porn sites? And how much would all this cost? 
Deasy said these details would be worked out before any decisions were made. But all we know for sure a year later is the price tag: a whopping $1 billion to provide more than 600,000 students and their teachers with top-of-the-line, software-equipped iPads at $678 each, plus the necessary Wi-Fi in the schools. 
The district has forged ahead — 47,000 students have received iPads already, with a much bigger purchase planned soon — yet vital issues remain inadequately addressed. 
Still unclear, for example, is who pays for accidental loss or damage to the iPads. Under the district's contract, Apple will replace up to 5% of the devices for free. After that, the district is on its own. Parents at different schools have been given different information about whether they would have to cover the cost, and Deasy said he's still trying to figure this out. Isn't this something he should have done before any iPads were purchased? 
The district also is coming to terms with how quickly its students disabled the firewall on their tablets to gain broad access to the Internet when they're not on campus. There are potential liability and safety issues at stake — if, for example, a student were to make contact with a sexual predator on a school-issued iPad. 
While it tries to figure that out, the district has decreed that students may not take the tablets home, which seriously limits their usefulness as tools for integrating their class studies and homework. ... 
There's also the matter of keyboards. Apparently the district hadn't foreseen that it might need to purchase them as well, at a so-far unknown cost. 
Access to iPads and other high-tech devices could be of tremendous benefit to L.A. Unified students, many of whom have few digital resources at home.But at this point, the district should be well beyond the "we're figuring this out" phase. It has spent some $30 million already, and in November, Deasy is scheduled to ask for close to $200 million more to provide iPads for an additional 300,000 students by the end of the school year. Given the many easily foreseen questions that have not been resolved, the board should require a more gradual rollout so that problems can be identified and addressed before it is too late to change course.

It's worthwhile to compare the evident quality of management at LAUSD vs the quality of management at Apple, which made $6.9 billion in profit last quarter. Who do you think got taken advantage of in this negotiation? One problem with education leadership these days is that the cynical bastards who can anticipate problems tend to get screened out by the ideological emphasis on Closing the Gap. You wind up with inspirational True Believers who fall in love with whatever the latest fad is.

Personally, if I were buying a billion dollars worth of stuff from one of the best run companies in the world, I would present them with a list of a dozen things that could go wrong and ask them how they were going to keep me from looking like a fool. And then I'd ask Apple for two dozen more things that could go wrong that I didn't put on my list and how they were going to prevent them.


Nostalgic Futurist said...

Seriously, iPads to close the gap? This is such a retarded idea that I cannot believe anyone really believed in it. It is obvious that there are some people making a lot of money with this, and I don't mean (only) at Apple.

In general, electronic equipment offer little in terms of learning and might serve more as a distraction *from* learning.

Learning in general is boring and involves memorization, repetition and practice. There's not much more than can be done. Of course, if the students have low IQ then what is hard becomes impossible.

Anti-Democracy Activist said...

Didn't anyone at LAUSD do a small-scale trial - distributing units to, say, two or three sample schools to see what the problems were - before they went for a big expensive contract to buy tens of thousands of these?

Didn't anyone talk to the LAUSD's legal department - presuming they even have one, which they should - to hash out these liability issues and come up with CYA contracts that the students (or their parents) had to sign before accepting the iPads?

Didn't anyone at LAUSD think about getting their iPad fleet insured?

Didn't anyone at LAUSD consider the possibility that if you distribute tens of thousands of internet-connected devices to horny teenagers, that some of them would figure out how to look at porn on them?

Didn't anyone at LAUSD ask whether students with "few digital resources at home" would even have wifi available there? And if not, how they were going to do homework that depended on them having an internet connection for their school-issued iPads?

Didn't anyone at LAUSD bring up that kids tend to break stuff, which is precisely why parents tend not to buy kids a lot of expensive, easily-broken items?

Doesn't anyone at LAUSD actually own an iPad and a laptop, and haven't they taken the time to try them out and evaluate which one is actually better for schoolwork? (Answer: It's the laptop).

Hasn't anyone at LAUSD talked to Blackboard or any of the other companies that provide internet-based education services at the college level, or to any of the professors who have been designing or teaching online courses in the UC and CSU systems, and asked them what works there and what could be adapted to K-12?

I guess not.

I'm a cynical bastard.

Anonymous said...

One would think LAUSD would get a massive discount--computer makers traditionally eager to sell to schools because it tends to cement brand loyalty early, in addition to the volume sales aspect.

The idea isn't completely outlandish--cheaper, easily updated textbooks are useful.

And you're hopelessly naive to worry about school officials looking like fools. Nobody is ever held accountable for results in a school district.

Cail Corishev said...

"Seriously, iPads to close the gap?"

No kidding. In the eternal question of whether they're stupid enough to believe their own hype, or corrupt and cynical enough to be pretending to, this one comes down on the stupid side. Giving kids any kind of technology will only increase any gap between smart and not-so-smart, as the smart ones will figure it out more quickly and learn more from it. The smartest kid will be learning to program so he can write apps while the dumbest one breaks his by smashing over another kid's head at recess.

Also, if you'd given me a portable computer with networking capability when I was school-age, I would have had porn on it. I don't care what kind of blocking software you used; the porn is out there and I would have gotten at it. The idea that you can just hand kids these things and not have such problems is bizarre.

Anonymous said...

People complain about the NYC school system being corrupt and inefficient, but the LAUSD really does win the gold medal in that department. Obvious corruption, patronage hiring, wastes of taxpayer and grant money, you name it they have it. And because they preach the gospel of multiculturalism and "diversity" (odd for a district that's 80% Hispanic) they always get away with it.

OSS said...

iPads for iEveryStudent is a bad idea at both the strategic level and the tactical level. About the only good thing about this is that some crypto-cynic kitted out the iPads with a good case:


Anonymous said...

There's really only one thing they should worry about going wrong with their program ... the students of the Los Angeles public school system themselves.

Maybe they should buy iPads for all the students in, say, Portland, Oregon and compare the results?

Anonymous said...

A tablet is a tablet is a tablet.
A well run authority would put such a big contract out to tender and get the best possible deal.
Undoubtedly the guys at Foxconn, who turn out all the i-pads, (as well as legions of cut-price competitors - which differ in minor tweaks only), would have saliviated at such a deal.

Anonymous said...

600,000 students and their teachers with top-of-the-line, software-equipped iPads at $678 each, plus the necessary Wi-Fi in the schools.

So, are there as many teachers as students? Or does software cost as much as the iPad? Or does the necessary Wi-Fi in the schools cost more than all the computers combined? And no bulk discount? WOW.

eah said...

Welfare for illegal aliens and their offspring. iPads for dumb Hispanic students in pursuit of modern educational alchemy. Such is the fate of the sisyphusian taxpayers of LA.

Anonymous said...

Unmentioned is this is really an attempt to keep the textbook purchasing scam going after paper becomes obsolete. A billion dollars is the kind of take even the biggest textbook boondoggler of yore would not have been able to imagine. Just think about all the jobs you can award just distributing the ipads. IMO framing the debate as to how they could be so stupid misses the point, the point being political patronage and corruption. Closing the gap is just the hook of the con.

Back in Brooklyn NY the rich kids' parents are purchasing something called Kumon tutoring which as near as I can figure it means paying someone to keep your kid in a silent room with paper math workbooks and a pencil. Your kid can rebel and do nothing but that just means they have to go back to Kumon again. I think public school could manage the paper math workbooks and pencils, but not the silent room part.

Cail Corishev said...

One would think LAUSD would get a massive discount--computer makers traditionally eager to sell to schools because it tends to cement brand loyalty early, in addition to the volume sales aspect.

Computer makers are traditionally eager to sell to schools (and government in general) because you can charge far more than private businesses will pay. I've written up such a quote before. Everyone in the industry knows the schools have money to throw around -- that they want to throw it around -- so everyone doubles or triples his bid, and the lowest bidder is still well above his killing-making mark.

That's true even when it's a dozen or more small PC shops bidding on the contract to service a town school's PC network. It's going to be even more true when it's a few big corporations who practically act as a monopoly anyway, bidding on a huge deal like this. Again, the school admins want to pay high for tech, to prove what a good job they're doing.

rightsaidfred said...

I like the logic here: all the smart people I know use ipads. Therefore, if we buy all the kids ipads, then they will be smart.

Anonymous said...

The idea isn't completely outlandish--cheaper, easily updated textbooks are useful.

$1,000,000,000 / 600,000 students = $1666.67 per student

I don't have time to sit here all day and look up the prices, but here are a few that I noticed:

Come! Let's Read with Dick and Jane! Level 1 (12 Books) Paperback, ~$225

Your Favorite Seuss (58 Volume Set) Hardcover, ~$650

The World of Peter Rabbit (The Original Peter Rabbit, Books 1-23, Presentation Box) Hardcover – Box set, $160.00

So far I'm at only $225 + $650 + $160 = $1035.

And if you're consistently purchasing on the order of 50,000 units per year, then I'm confident that a competent purchasing agent could get you some massive discounts on those prices.

Heck, at those numbers, you could probably convince Random House to fire up the old printing presses and give you complete hardcover boxed sets of the old [pre-Political Correctness] Landmark Series - in its entirety.

And you'd even have room left over in the budget to purchase two or three large bookshelves from IKEA so that the little bambinos wouldn't [necessarily] have to throw all their books on the floor.

Point being that at $1667.67, each child can be given his or her OWN PERSONAL HARDCOVER LIBRARY in the privacy of his or her own bedroom.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, iPads to close the gap?
- of course! it was those outdate laptops these poor children have been working with that caused the gap in the first place.

(remember a laptop for every child!)

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Just download "iGapCloser" from the App Store.

Anonymous said...

Sigh. It's probably like Obamacare. None of the details matter. Just that a lot of money moves through the system, with lots of opportunity for completely legal skimming.

International Jew said...

To get an idea of how long those iPads will last, have a look at how battered school textbooks get after just a year or two.

Anonymous said...

Children use IPADS to play games. Anyone with children and an IPAD knows this. They are difficult to type on and the only advantage they offer is in replacement of text books, which can be heavy for young children to carry home. Has anyone checked to see if they are ordering text books this way? I assume the answer is "no" and that these are just one more toy to be given out, quickly stolen, lost and broken. Just another billion dollars down the drain. The children would have been FAR better off had they taken the money and invested the money for each one in a mutual fund and told them the money would be waiting for them upon graduation from High School, if they managed to make it by the age of 19.

Mike said...

Y'all are too cynical. My son's school is in the second year of all the students having ipads. There have been no problems...

It is an all boys Catholic high school. I'm pretty sure that doesn't make any real difference.

E. Rekshun said...

SS: "Firemen these days tend to be overpaid and underworked..."

I'll say, several firefighters from my mid-sized, east coast, low cost FL city recently retired w/ $100K per year pensions at age 45. Their pensions are more than their working salaries.

This is very common and even more outrageous in the bigger cities. Many cities and counties in FL publish their firefighter, and other employees', salaries on-line. The state of FL published pensions of state workers.

anon said...

cant wait to buy one cheap on the internet$
i was going to have to pay $350 for one of those $678 ipads

Mr. Anon said...

How much would a complete set of text-books cost per pupil? 200$? They don't require WiFi and network administration. And they don't have to be upgraded continuously - they can even be used for several years. Public schools really have become a complete waste of money.

carol said...

A well run authority would put such a big contract out to tender and get the best possible deal.

I googled for the RFP and found this, which seems to be the same project all over again only with 3 vendors.

Very confusing bid process.

Anonymous said...

Has it occurred to liberal educrats that "closing the gap" could make the less-privileged students more dangerous? These less-privileged students are notoriously illiberal, anti-intellectual, mean, vicious, and thuggish. Making them smarter and better educated could mean a new generation of Pol Pots.

Anonymous said...

Similar trends are going on in my local school district too. Every other school seems to have 3-4 people working as "instructional technology experts."

iPads are unlikely to do anything other than lower attention spans. Even if they absolutely must integrate more technology, why not give students cheap netbooks instead? Also, all the money they spend on the latest fads could be spent on reducing class sizes. Smaller classes probably don't impact academic outcomes that much, but they do make school less miserable, giving teachers an easier time handling classroom management.

David said...

>I like the logic here: all the smart people I know use ipads. Therefore, if we buy all the kids ipads, then they will be smart.<

Yep, the Cargo Cult fallacy. The magic smart people use those thingies. The only difference is that instead of building imitation ones for themselves, the natives are getting real ones showered on them for free, like the liquor bottle in "The Gods Must Be Crazy."

The assumption must be that the "natives" will become addicted to this technology and will continue to feed the addiction by the use of personal debt, like most Americans do. So the strategy of the "Gods" in this case is closer to that of a drug pusher: who cares if the junkie plunders his grandma's purse or his child's piggy bank, as long as the dough keeps rolling in.

Anti-Democracy Activist said...

The basic impulse - bringing computers and the internet into modern education - is not a contemptible one. That said:

First, it kind of defeats the purpose of K-12 education, which is, as anyone paying attention knows, to be warehouses for the offspring of worker drones while the drones are out working. While there, the aforementioned offspring are given loads of essentially-pointless busy work to make it look like something of merit is being accomplished. This all being the case, why is there any need to be efficient or modern? You might as well have the students carve their assignments onto stone tablets with flint chisels - that would be all the better, actually, for being slower, and thus dragging out the busy work.

Assuming, however, that you still wanted to put some tech in the classroom, a cheapie netbook, maybe in combination with a cheapie Kindle, is a way better choice than an iPad. Less fragile, more repairable, less expensive, easier to administer, more flexible, better at content creation (as opposed to consumption), and, as a non-trendy item, less likely to attract thieves (iDevices are notorious mugger magnets). That's not to put down Apple or iDevices, but to say that the right tool for the job is the one that's most appropriate, not the hippest or trendiest.

As for the pressing problem of protecting horny teenage boys from the horrors of pornography: I sympathize, but that train sailed about fifty years ago. It's a little late in the Sexual Revolution to suddenly be discovering that problem. At this point, it would be ridiculous to not deploy computers in education (assuming that they're a good idea otherwise) because some percentage of the students you give them to will bypass the safeguards you put on them and use them to look at dirty pictures or engage in dirty chat.

As an aside, anyone remember back when liberals used to make fun of conservatives for wanting to distribute computers to the poor and disadvantaged? Yeah, those were the days. In case you don't recall, here's a reminder:

countenance said...

Some LAUSD (!!!) students at Roosevelt High School ( : 98% Hispanic) have already cracked the special lockdown software on LAUSD distributed iMaxiPads and are now using them as general purpose devices: Twitter, Facebook, games.

Maybe this is how these districts are spending all the money they don't have to spend on teachers because they're swapping out older experienced more costly teachers for younger Can't Teach For America twits and social justice obsessed dingbats. Giving it all to the iCabal.

Anonymous said...

prediction: if your iPad is "stolen" and sold on Ebay, it's discrimination not to replace it - the taxpayers are on the hook in perpetuity, like free and assisted lunches.

Anonymous said...

"...why not give students cheap netbooks instead?"

Yes. Instead of general purpose iPads, someone like Amazon could make a killing off a cheap idiot-proof mil-rugged e-book reader that had the entire K-12 school text-book load installed on it. Maybe not even any networking, or networking only to download from a school admin portal to update the text-book set. That way a smart kid could study ahead, if so inclined, and kids could at least glance through the materials of courses they normally would not take. Maybe find there is some interesting stuff in Ag Shop for instance... And kids wouldn't have to drag around a backpack full of books.

Harry Baldwin said...

Have they made provision to extradite the iPads from Mexico should students return home?

Anonymous said...

When UK schools first started having laptops for the kids, they were a favourite target for thieves. Now it's iPads, smaller, just as valuable and even more saleable and desireable to kids.

iPad --> Kindle Fire / Nexus --> generic Android pad

(note the officer's deep insight)

Police are appealing for information following a theft of more than 100 iPads from a school in Cardiff. The iPads and iPad cases worth an estimated £34,000 were stolen from Ysgol Melin Gruffydd, Whitchurch, during the school summer holidays.

Sergeant Jason Wilcox said: "I am sure they will be trying to sell these items in order to make themselves some money."

Anonymous said...

Anti-Democracy Activist: a cheapie Kindle

Anonymous: Instead of general purpose iPads, someone like Amazon could make a killing off a cheap idiot-proof mil-rugged e-book reader that had the entire K-12 school text-book load installed on it.

Will you people please just SHUT T. F. UP already?

As if Jeff Bezos needs any further incentive to be even more evil than he is already.

Anonymous said...

I read my wife this post. she's a former public school teacher. she laughed at the notion that an administrator would want give them all iPad. 'all these kids have smart phones already, which are basically iPads' A vey good point.

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

(note the officer's deep insight)

Sergeant Jason Wilcox said: "I am sure they will be trying to sell these items in order to make themselves some money.""

The coppers nowadays seem a far cry from what they once were.

Anonymous said...

In April 1991, a Hispanic activist wrote an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune in response to an assertion by a Japanese professor that America's future was doomed if the demographic trends of 1991 continued.

Contrary to his skepticism about the emerging minority workforce`s ability to keep America afloat, we firmly believe that Hispanics and other minorities are advancing excellence in the American workplace.

Well that was written 22 years ago. I guess most of us on this blog didn't have to wait 22 years to find out he couldn't have been more wrong.

BTW, here is the original op-ed by the Japanese professor who correctly predicted our doom in 1991.

Anonymous said...

The basic impulse - bringing computers and the internet into modern education - is not a contemptible one.

On the contrary, the basis impulse - making a flashy, self-promotional gesture without thinking through either costs or effectivness - is entire contemptible.

This isn't 1986, when no one has tried computers in the classroom before.


David said...

>This isn't 1986<

It will always be 1986 to some people.