updated 10:47 am EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Superintendent, deputy had close links to Apple, Pearson
The superintendent of Los Angeles' Unified School District, John Deasy, has formally suspended future implementation of an iPad contract with Apple. "Moving forward, we will no longer utilize our current contract with Apple," he writes in a memo issued to the Board of Education. "Not only will this decision enable us to take advantage of an ever-changing marketplace and technology advances, it will also give us time to take into account concerns raised surrounding the [project]."
The original contract would've called for every student in the LAUSD to receive an iPad, with curriculum content provided by educational publisher Pearson. Things quickly went awry, though, in the form of budget overruns, students finding ways around security measures, and complaints that it was difficult to take tests on an iPad because of its small screen and lack of hardware keyboard integration. Even before this week's decision, the USD had decided to experiment with other devices and curricula.
More seriously, in the past several days disclosures have revealed that Deasy and his top deputy, Jaime Aquino, have close ties with Apple executives and Pearson. A draft report of a district technology committee notes that officials appear to have tailored contract requirements to ensure that Apple and Pearson got involved.
A May 2012 email from Aquino -- who was formerly an executive at a Pearson affiliate -- appears to center around making sure Pearson gets a contract. "I believe we would have to make sure that your bid is the lowest one," he wrote. Deasy chimed in on the conversation. "Understand your points and we need to work together on this quickly," he said. "I want to not loose [sic] an amazing opportunity and fully recognize our current limits."
This week Deasy defended himself, arguing that the exchanges with Pearson were only about a "pilot program we did at several schools months before we decided to do a large-scale implementation," acknowledging that his office did work "closely" on the pilot. Aquino is also said to have offered another vendor, Amplify Education, a similar chance. "Nothing was done in any inappropriate way whatsoever. Of course I talk to people. I would be expected to," Deasy comments.
Aquino left the organization last year, and has ignored interview requests from the LA Times. The teachers' union has called for an investigation into the contracting process, and a source tells the Times that the LAUSD's inspector general is planning to conduct more interviews. A previous inquiry was reviewed by the LA County district attorney's office, and at the time it was decided that no criminal charges were worth pursuing.
Despite the collusion concerns, Deasy's memo indicates that he expects Apple and Pearson to be among the bidders for 18,000 laptop orders the USD is pursuing. "We will incorporate the lessons learned from the original procurement process," he said.