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WSJ: Apple, Pearson to re-bid on LA school district tablet program

updated 08:51 pm EDT, Wed August 27, 2014

Original deal tainted with cost overruns, conflicts of interest, other issues

The Wall Street Journal has confirmed that both Apple and educational curriculum and textbook publisher Pearson will re-bid on a new contract to supply the LA United School District (LAUSD) with computer and tablet options as part of a program that could eventually grow to $500 million. Both companies were the core of the previous contract that would have seen all students receiving iPads, but questions of cost overruns, problems and lack of transparency combined to force the district to cancel that arrangement.

The original project -- often incorrectly reported as a $1 billion iPad rollout due to a separate $500 million project to improve overall school technology infrastructure -- was initially tested in a $30 million program on a handful of campuses. The test program was successful enough to warrant plans to expand the program, which would have seen every K-12 student in the LAUSD eventually receiving an iPad.

However, following the beginning of the larger-scale deployment, questions about the transparency of the contracting process and reports of students who had circumvented the restrictive Internet content filtering -- along with reports of cost overruns because the district had failed to order enough units to qualify for discounts -- combined into a maelstrom of bad publicity that eventually led to officials cancelling the original deal.

LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy has insisted that, despite emails that suggest Deasy and his deputy had regular contact with Apple and Pearson during the pilot phase of the program, the bidding process was conducted within the rules. However, public pressure has forced him to cancel the contract and try to sugar-coat the fallout by saying that the revised process will allow the district to "take into account concerns raised" about the project, as well as "take advantage of an ever-changing marketplace," widely interpreted as opening the door to other tablet makers.

Despite the problems, parts of the original program lives on. About 40 schools have received iPads and notebooks under the original funding, with the district having spent about $61 million in a lease arrangement. The initial rollout will likely be studied closely to gain insight on how to better handle a larger-scale proposal, which is still going forward and which Apple -- with 90 percent of the educational tablet market -- may still play a big role in.

As noted yesterday, other schools have found wide success with iPad-driving programs, though Google's Chromebooks have also found favor in some areas, particularly as students go beyond grade school and are required to provide longer typed papers. The St. Paul (Minnesota) School District will be leasing more than 40,000 iPads (with at least 1,000 MacBook models) as part of a new program for 37 schools. Thus far, Apple says it has sold more than 13 million iPads to the education market around the world.

by MacNN Staff




  1. Inkling

    Senior User

    Joined: 07-25-06

    Within education, small-scales tests often do well because they're not randomized trials. They involve an carefully vetted, highly motivated group that gets exceptionally good support. None of that's likely to be true were this scheme expanded to the entire LA school district. The real problem lies elsewhere. Gadgets can never substitute for good teachers and disciplined well-run schools. And they can certainly do nothing about dreadful home situations. The real problems are cultural not technical.

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    Agreed, but another issue to be avoided is a "technological divide" -- where wealthier schools have tech and poorer schools do not. The iPads aren't even trying to replace good teachers, good parents or discipline -- they're about replacing a) paper, expensive textbooks and b) non-interactive teaching methods. I'm pleased that most of these districts seem to want to portion out the tablets/netbooks/MacBooks etc evenly rather than unevenly.

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