LA Schools Learn Wrong Lesson from iPad Debacle, Buy Chromebooks and Laptops


Kevin Jarrett / Flickr

Who could be against choice? That's the argument Los Angeles school district administrators are now employing to push their latest round of expensive technology upgrades. Schools will be given the choice to receive Chromebooks instead of iPads—and some schools will get laptops, the most expensive option of all. The Los Angeles Times reports:

Under a new plan, 27 schools that were originally set to receive iPads, made by Apple, now will also have the choice of choosing a less-expensive Chromebook, which uses a Google operating system.

"We're trying to gear this around giving choices to the schools," said Mark Hovatter, who heads the facilities division for L.A. Unified.

The idea is to eventually place such a device in the hands of every child in the district. The problem administrators encountered when rolling out the iPad plan, however, was that kids kept losing or breaking the devices. What happens then? Do parents pay, or does the district? Do kids get a replacement? Teachers also struggled mightily to incorporate the technology into their lesson plans, and concerns about kids using iPads for unsanctioned purposes caused headaches.

The initial iPad deal unravelled after allegations of an improper relationship between then District Superintendent John Deasy, Apple, and curriculum company Pearson. As I wrote in the December 2014 issue of Reason:

Forced to admit the idea was a costly fiasco, Deasy cancelled the order for more iPads. That's when evidence surfaced that the superintendent and his deputy, Jaime Aquino, were overly friendly with executives at Apple and Pearson, the company supplying curriculum for the devices. Aquino may have improperly advised Pearson representatives on how to guarantee that they landed the contract, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Fastforward to today, and the new plan is well underway. Administrators would like people to believe that they are merely introducing choice and competition—all that good stuff that us free-marketeers love—to the technology plan. Each school can choose the right device for its kids.

That's all well and good, but I have little reason to believe that the individual schools will be more responsible stewards of the taxpayer's money than the district was. Indeed, 21 schools decided to go with an even more expensive option: laptops.

Steve Lopez of the LA Times argued persuasively in October that the iPad fiasco was a costly diversion from the district's real problems. Schools can't even find the money for math textbooks, but administrators want to force unneeded technology on them and impose computerized tests.

The district should prioritize basic instruction before deciding to purchase thousands of fancy gadgets.

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