L.A. District Seeks Refund From Apple Amid Investigations - InformationWeek

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4/17/2015
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L.A. District Seeks Refund From Apple Amid Investigations

The Los Angeles Unified School District's ambitious plan to provide an iPad for every student has been derailed by questions about the contract bidding process and dissatisfaction with the software.

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The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) this week asked Apple to refund fees paid for educational content licenses provided by Pearson Education, Apple's partner in a $1.3 billion iPad contract that began as a $30 million deal in June 2013. The goal had been to give every L.A. district student an iPad with instructional software.

In a letter sent to Apple general counsel Bruce Sewell, LAUSD general counsel David Holmquist says Pearson failed to deliver what it promised for the district's Instructional Technology Initiative (ITI), formerly referred to as the Common Core Technology Project.

"While Apple and Pearson promised a state-of-the-art technological solution for ITI implementation, they have yet to deliver it, " Holmquist wrote. "Despite issuance of cure notices to Apple and numerous meetings with Apple and Pearson, few improvements have been made."

Holmquist states that LAUSD will no longer use Pearson content for ITI and will no longer purchase Apple devices that contain Pearson content. 

(Image: Apple)

(Image: Apple)

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

In an emailed statement, Pearson extolled its long working history with the LAUSD and its investment in transforming instructional practices. "LAUSD oversaw a large-scale implementation of new technologies and there have been challenges with the initial adoption, but we stand by the quality of our performance," a company spokesperson said. "We took on this challenging work because of the opportunity to bring innovation of digital learning to scale in the most diverse district in the country serving large numbers of students living in poverty."

Following the resignation of LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy in October last year, his successor, Ramon Cortines, suspended the iPad program in early December, a day after FBI agents arrived at LAUSD headquarters and seized boxes full of documents.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the FBI was carrying out a federal grand jury subpoena seeking information on the contract and the bidding process as well as records related to other projects.

An LAUSD spokesperson confirmed reports that the SEC has opened an informal inquiry into the district's use of bond funds for the iPad deal.

A September 2014 report by the American Institutes for Research identified a number of problems with the district's iPad program, problems that indicate technology alone won't improve education.

The report cites complaints by some teachers that: Pearson's curriculum was incomplete during training sessions; training sessions didn't explain how to integrate the curriculum into classrooms effectively; and apps couldn't be accessed. It also cites a variety of technical roadblocks faced in classroom settings: poor connectivity; device problems; a lack of training among teachers; a lack of technology skills among teachers and students; a lack of district communication and guidance; problems with Apple IDs, login, and email; and various other issues.

The LAUSD's dissatisfaction with Pearson's curriculum has only partially affected Apple. While the LAUSD has put a hold on its plan to provide every student with an iPad, it continues to buy technology from Apple. But the district is also looking beyond a single vendor. According to the L.A. Times the LAUSD had been moving away from single vendor contracts since early 2014.

Over the winter break, according to LA School Report, the district spent $13 million to buy 21,000 iPad Airs and keyboards, along with 6,000 Chromebooks. Chromebooks became an option for LA schools after the iPad deal unraveled, at the approval of Cortines, and are expected to cost the district between $100 to $200 less than iPads (which cost about $768 apiece, curriculum included).

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Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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asksqn
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asksqn,
User Rank: Ninja
4/27/2015 | 3:14:42 PM
Cronyism makes the world go round
Yet another sweetheart deal for a well-connected crony of the LAUSD. The more money that is tossed at school districts in CA, the more corruption that ensues, and yet still, the quality of education in CA has plummented to worse than the Third World.
Broadway0474
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50%
Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
4/23/2015 | 8:54:01 PM
Re: Where to start with this one?
Pedro, I agree with you on a practical level. But call me idealistic --- at a certain point we need to stop using that as a crutch and learn from past mistakes and shoot for perfection. We may not get there but you can't unless you at least try.
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
4/23/2015 | 1:44:38 PM
Re: Where to start with this one?
@ broadway. I friend of mine told me you can never plan all the things that could go run on a software project.  Even though, there is a lot of materials on planning and methodology.  I think because it was a high stake project with a lot pressure to deliver because of the promotion it received by the public and the industry.T  hey didn't force see all the factors which affected it in the end.
Broadway0474
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50%
Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
4/23/2015 | 12:06:39 AM
Re: Where to start with this one?
Pedro, I hope LA's school district can turn this project around and the white paper turns out to be a success story. On the other hand, there are plenty of examples in higher ed where schools have given out devices to students. It may not represent the same scale or population. At the same time, certain precedents were set and certainly best practices must be out there to follow.
PedroGonzales
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50%
PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
4/21/2015 | 8:52:41 PM
Re: Where to start with this one?
@ Broadway. This apple role out was supposed to be the hallmark of technology implementation in education. I remember reading the article here at informationweek.  It was interested to find out that getting tablets to students was only one of the problems.  I hope we get another article.  What are the lessons learned from trying to get tablets to kids in L.A. I'm sure it will be an excellent white paper of what not to do.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
4/20/2015 | 6:28:17 PM
one lesson
It suprises me that any school district would accept educational content tied to a specific platform. There's not really a good excuse for failing to make a Web app that runs on desktop and mobile devices, regardless of operating system.
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
4/18/2015 | 9:50:08 PM
Re: Where to start with this one?
Pedro, that's a great point. Besides the apparent corruption involved, the LA District and the vendor really botched the rollout with the teachers. The people who would be making this program a success on a daily, on the ground basis. The teachers were definitely not involved, it seems, in the planning or execution. I'd love to hear about a similar example where the opposite happened ... where everyone WAS involved and it was a success.
PedroGonzales
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50%
PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
4/18/2015 | 9:10:09 PM
Re: Where to start with this one?
Whatever they did, they really did a mess to get the FBI involve.  This only supports that technology alone won't solve problems in education, technology isn't a panacea.  If administrators want to change education, it must involve all the parties involve and use technology to support that goal not the other way around.
Broadway0474
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50%
Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
4/17/2015 | 11:16:52 PM
Where to start with this one?
So are we to believe that the problem was just really poor rollout and execution by the curriculum vendor, Pearson? Or is all of that mention about the FBI flying into the scene (and I envision them jumping on ropes out of helicopters, swooping into the school district's HQ) supposed to leave us thinking that some really shameful corruption occurred?

 
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