The Los Angeles Times reported on February 21, 2015 that the district cannot afford computers for all students. This is a monumental shift in strategy following the iPad debacle that occurred in the fall of 2013. The Superintendent, Ramon C. Cortines, stated that “the district never had a fleshed-out framework for how the devices would be used in the classroom and paid for over time.” To date, much of the rhetoric during this scandal has been reminiscent of the classic movie Casablanca, where Sargent Renault proclaimed “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” just as a croupier hands Renault his winnings.
While the FBI now further investigates the iPad debacle, educators should be looking at this as a learning opportunity. This debacle, not only has cost the taxpayer money, but adversely affects the students. It is unclear in the future how technology will be implemented into the curriculum in the LAUSD, but it is likely that progress will be glacial, given the political fallout.
Education has long suffered from technolust. Too many education leaders are not skilled in technology analysis and decision making, and are responsible for poor decisions. Not including the providers (aka teachers) in the decision making process is a huge mistake. Much like a medical delivery organization would never institute new treatments without the intimate consultation of the medical providers, neither should schools in the selection of classroom technology. The top down structure of school administrators needs to move beyond the stale, outdated, and top-heavy administration structures. Technology requires participation from a variety of perspectives, especially from the providers. It is not that the final decision must be collective, but the systemic process to arrive at a valid decision is part of a collective effort.
It is not clear what expertise, if any, the district used as a catalyst to move toward a widespread adoption of a single technology such as the iPad. Perhaps it was more along the old technology adage analogous to ‘no one had ever been fired for selecting IBM”, which is an old mantra used in the private sector of yesteryear. The iPads might have been thought of as a safe decision in the event of a failure to meet learning needs. But as we have witnessed, beyond any alleged backroom deals, the selection of the iPad should have been deeply questioned just from the “one size fits all” approach. No single technology in education fits all needs, all students, and all learning tasks.
At higher levels of education beyond elementary, the need for productivity and content creation are paramount. The necessity of keyboard input is a given. The iPad is not a device well aligned to the needs of secondary level students, and is certainly not a device designed to use a keyboard efficiently. While it cannot be said that the iPad does not have any value, the overall value and price made it a poor decision from the outset. There is little an iPad can do that a less expensive technology cannot. Many schools are moving to Chromebooks, including the LAUSD, because of the utility, alignment to the needs of students, and low cost. Even a nearby district in Torrance, CA selected Chromebooks over iPads as a more economical solution that aligns with curriculum needs. What made LAUSD so different?
Technology is a vehicle, not a solution. Educators, especially ‘leadership’, should be the champions of aligned solutions to learning challenges. The famous quote by Richard Clark in a seminal debate about educational technology stated “…media are mere vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition.” It is the instructional methods concomitant with the use of technology; not the technology.
The bottom line is that the least expensive technology to achieve the learning objectives should always be the goal. Further, if one can achieve a learning objective without technology, that is perfectly acceptable. We are not teaching technology, but rather using it as a vehicle to increase learning achievement. Schools cannot just blindly subscribe to keeping up with the Joneses. Exhaustive research, expert guidance, and a slow walk to full scale adoption should be components of any technology initiative. Private organizations routinely conduct test pilots prior to any large investment, and schools should be no different. As a matter of point, when using public monies, a pilot should be required.
For the teachers in Los Angeles, chins up, this is no reflection on their commitment to students. Despite this bitter experience, Los Angeles will likely emerge stronger from this debacle. Sometimes from the ashes, the phoenix will rise. Let’s hope this is the case.