The inside story on LA schools’ iPad rollout: “a colossal disaster”

Homework with iPad by NDStrupler, on Flickr

Homework with iPad by NDStrupler, on Flickr

Scarcely a month ago, on August 27, the Los Angeles County Unified School District placed the first iPads in students’ hands at the outset of a $1 billion plan to give one to every single student in the nation’s second largest public school district ($500 million for devices, plus an additional $500 million for internet infrastructure upgrades, raised through construction bonds).

The project is now being resoundingly panned, as reports surfaced quickly of high school students going around the security software on the iPads to surf for non-approved content. The district has called a halt to students bringing iPads home amid disputes over who will be held responsible for loss or damage–parents or taxpayers.

On Friday I spoke to two LAUSD contractors who have first-hand knowledge of the rollout. They agreed to give an insiders’ view of the controversy on background. There’s an incredible litany of problems here that reads like a primer on what NOT to do with a major deployment of technology in a school district.

1. The Rush

Problem number one, from these contractors’ perspective, was the timeline. The iPad idea first surfaced in November as a proposal to spend $17 million in bond money coming to the district. There was a small pilot in the spring–not enough, says Contractor #1. “From an IT and security standpoint, it would be tough to pilot something in just a few months, let alone start phase I. I have a hard time believing that people in the district didn’t raise red flags to say, are you sure we’re doing this the best way possible?”

2. Training and Professional Development

The second big issue was a lack of training, professional development, and overall, a failure to recognize the human resource needs created by a big device rollout like this one. “Teachers were not trained in the system to manage the devices. Nobody at the school was trained. A couple people from the district that came out to sort of help and they had somebody at the school who was the de facto tech person, teaching teachers how to use it after it had been deployed,” says Contractor #1. Contractor #2 added: “The ELA (English) teachers got a 40 minute training, because they were responsible for giving them out.  I don’t think any of the other teachers were trained on the mobile device management system.” Part of the reason that students found it so easy to turn off the security controls to surf the Web and access sites like Facebook, Youtube and Pandora might be that many teachers were unfamiliar with how the controls worked.

3. School to Home and Back

Taking school-issued devices home has pedagogical justifications, for homework, extra practice time, and making stronger connections between school and home. But there are some practical and theoretical objections to this idea.

During the pilot, Contractor #1 says, students weren’t allowed to take the iPads home. When they started going home, teachers quickly discovered that checking the devices out at the end of the day, and checking them back in in the morning, used up precious classroom time. Also, said contractor #2, “If kids didn’t want to do the work, they would come late purposely and not get an iPad. So in some classes, half the kids had them and half the kids didn’t, they were just sitting with their heads on the desk.” Parents, meanwhile, don’t want to be held liable for the loss, breakage or theft of the devices.

Contractor #1 had a different, more personal objection to the idea of students using a single device for work and home. “Being in IT, my professional device is separate from what I use at home. My daughter is five years old. She’s not old enough to understand that there’s a difference between your home life and school life and what’s acceptable in each place. Until she can segment that, I don’t want her being held responsible for any mistakes.”

4. Why iPads?

Los Angeles is paying a reported $678 apiece for these Apple iPads, higher than retail, although the price does include some educational software. That compares to as low as $250, retail, for a budget laptop. iPads don’t have a reputation as durable machines, and notably, they don’t have keyboards. “From the beginning I said, are they going to type at all? Is this not a skill? Are they going to require a keyboard?” said Contractor #1. Sure enough, just after Labor Day, the school district announced that they may be spending up to an additional $38 million on wireless keyboard accessories.


POSTED BY Anya Kamenetz ON September 30, 2013

Comments & Trackbacks (40) | Post a Comment

Marc van Maastricht

I can’t believe students removing their profile (that’s not ‘hacking’; that’s ‘removing a profile’) and do some personal surfing and social networking ‘in their private time’ is considered ‘a collosal disaster’! Drawing such a conclusion seems like enjoying a ‘see? I was right!-moment’.

Give me a break!

Teach the students how to become critical thinkers! Teach them how to use the iPad for what it’s good at: education! And, like you rightfully remarked: teach the teachers to use them properly. And to have fun using them, together with their students.
Making awesome movies, pictures and anything ekes you can do one these iPads.

Restricting the iPads and blocking content is sending your students the message: “We trust the iPads, but we don’t trust you using them!” If I were a student, I’d see that as an invitation to hack ‘the system’ too!

Start with trusting your students and giving them responsibility. And don’t bother with a futility like ‘not having a keyboard’… How is ‘using a keyboard’ a skill, while students will type away as fast on a screen as they did on keyboards within a week or two? Or technology will advance so fast, keyboards will probably be obsolete within 10 years?
I promise you: a $250,- laptop will cost you way more than the iPad in the long run: broken keyboards and other moving parts, viruses, bad quality components, expensive and complicated software, etc..

Let your students use their iPad like a tool indeed: filming interviews on the street, edit it along a storyline, a making a beautiful products.
That way, they won’t even have time to do Facebook (apart from proudly sharing what they produced). And they can happily use Pandora at home, enjoying their well earned free time to relax with their iPad!


Students no longer know how to alphabetize and use a dictionary. That is sad.


“Restricting the iPads and blocking content is sending your students the message: “We trust the iPads, but we don’t trust you using them!” If I were a student, I’d see that as an invitation to hack ‘the system’ too!”

This is nonsense which sends students ill-prepared for life outside the walled garden of school. Students need to understand the concept of setting boundaries. Guess what? Their future employers will not be nearly as lenient on them for prohibited use of company resources as the LA Unified school district.

You see a content restriction as an invitation to hack the system? They may be surprised when their boss gives them a formal reprimand or simply fires them. In this economy, you play by the rules because there is likely someone that wants your job and more than willing to abide company policy on their free device.

[…] The inside story on LA schools’ iPad rollout: “a colossal disaster” is from The Hechinger Report. […]


#2. Lets Blame the teachers again . They don’t know how to use a tablet. Only children know how to use them. That’s why they were able to delete files. If anything goes wrong, we should always blame the teachers because, after all, they are always to blame for anything that goes wrong. Had it been a success, the Supe would have gotten his pic on the front page of the Beloved Times and Teresa Watanabe’s dog would be enjoying another dose of self induced pleasure brownies.
Yes I agree technology is the answer, but a tablet is only a portal into other worlds. Without a key/subscription there is only window shopping.
So when someone says training- it isn’t about managing or handling. It is about paying someone a presidents salary to buy software from someone they are deeply connected with and not consulting with teachers,children, parents, taxpayers, and university researchers.

[…] The inside story on LA schools’ iPad rollout: “a colossal disaster” Hechinger Report: On Friday I spoke to two LAUSD contractors who have first-hand knowledge of the rollout. They agreed to give an insiders’ view of the controversy on background. There’s an incredible litany of problems here that reads like a primer on what NOT to do with a major deployment of technology in a school district. […]

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Vouchers, SERIOUSLY????? Just look at the failure of the 20 year long voucher experiment in Milwaukee, one of many examples. If you want to see voucher bizarre, Loser-iana is it’s own self contained horror show thanks in large part to their laughably unqualified TFA superintendant Mr. White. Vouchers are nothing more than one of the many sales pitches used by reformy shills to create the illusion of choice where none actually exists.

Bruce William Smith

Check out Hong Kong and you might come to a different conclusion about vouchers. But that would require doing some homework about education outside of the United States, something virtually no one commenting upon or making decisions about education inside the United States ever does. Therefore you have leaders spending the money of taxpayers not even yet born on technology that will long since have been relegated to landfills by the time these devices are paid for, leaders who might have unearthed the PISA finding that students with computers available in schools showed no gains in their achievement, while those with computers available at home performed distinctly WORSE than those who did not, making colossal borrowing decisions based on theory and rhetoric rather than evidence of success.

Bruce William Smith

A billion dollars. With construction bonds. Look at the photo at the top of the page: does that look like the result of construction to you? (And no metaphors about “knowledge construction”, please.)

This is bait-and-switch, a swindling of the taxpayers, managed by the school district. Taxpayers should remember this the next time anyone from the L.A. Unified School District comes forward with a plan supporting raising taxes or passing bonds for any of its activities. In the meanwhile, Sacramento, it’s time for vouchers to become legal in California, to save us from this lunacy.

Gordon Apple

Leave it to LA Schools to go blindly into massive new expenditures without doing any kind of a trial first for evaluation.

Anya Kamenetz

they did do a pilot, I think it’s just that it wasn’t big enough or complete enough.


The whole point, the whole idea of a pilot is to do it at a properly small scale as a proof of concept. The fact that no one in LAUSD raised red flags since no one there knew what they were doing and therefore couldn’t evaluate what was going on is a giant fail.

Diane H

In the rush to put wireless technology in the classroom, please consider:

and there are many more. This is new information to the general population.

Jim Knight

We have been trying to get in touch with LA Unified to let them know about our very popular and highly review eCourse for teachers showing them not only how to use their iPads but how to use it and best apps to develop content/lessons to the New Common Core to to teach with using our eTeaching Platform. You can view our eCourse and try out the first lesson below:

iPad eCourse to teach with best apps and create content to the New Common Core
First Lesson for iPad eCourse

Thanks….Jim Knight VP of Education
Digital Learning Tree


It’s all about how you use the tool. Implementation of iPads can be tremendously successful with tools like ExitTicket and ClassBadges.

[…] LA schools iPad roll out […]


They did a pilot that tested the “process”, according to the LAUSD big cheeses who debriefed the technology committee last Tuesday. Not the outcome. That is, they never asked the question: “is this technology doing what we want it to”? They just asked the question: “did we distribute the devices OK?”

George Buzzetti

OK you talked to the contractors. Where is your documentation? That is why you do not understand that with the keyboards it is now $775. $59 for the keyboard, $79.95 for the case. This is retail. If you are going to buy from 650,000-700,000 units shouldn’t you get a giant discount? Not LAUSD and Deasy and Crew. And the dumb board just goes for a contract without and terms and conditions. Would you do that? Or that the paperwork the parent signed states not to be taken home and Jaime Aquino states in his Feb. 12, 2013 power point that they must wait for legislation for students to take them home. And why the $500,000,000 for infrastructure when we just spent up to $30,000/classroom for internet connection. Why did we spend that money? Why didn’t they figure out the keyboards until the mess in N.Y.? Why more than retail? If you do not have the background you do not really know the story. I never do anything without documentation. I have it. The bomb is dropping internationally in a few days. You will first be able to see it on “Hemlock on the Rocks.” Right now on “Hemlock on the Rocks” you can see the original quickie analysis and 8 pages of documents. When the bomb is dropped it will be with the power point attached, the pertinent documents and the analysis.


Denise Phillips

Why put “why iPads” as a cause. The fact that they were iPads had nothing to do with why they were taken back….this is a not so subtle dig on Apple.

Anya Kamenetz

The choice of the technology is very relevant to any instructional technology program. The first step in design and implementation is figuring out what tools are best for a designated purpose. Realizing months into the game that keyboard accessories will be necessary obviously isn’t optimal.

[…] in mind that using iPads in a classroom is far from an end in itself. One only has to look at the experience of schools in Los Angeles to realise that any sort of technology rollout has to be carefully planned. The number one priority […]

[…] in mind that using iPads in a classroom is far from an end in itself. One only has to look at the experience of schools in Los Angeles to realise that any sort of technology rollout has to be carefully planned. The number one priority […]

[…] By Anya Kamenetz, The Hechinger Report […]

Kurt Madden

Contractors don’t always have the “inside” story and as you can imagine, many of them don’t always have the students’ interests as their #1 focus. I would encourage you to talk to the CTO or others inside LAUSD to get the flip side of the story. They know where the iPads are and there are some really good things going on despite the negative press. A pilot is designed to test and learn from a smaller group before rolling it out to everyone. In a pilot, especially a large pilot, stuff goes wrong, hypotheses are proved incorrect and we find out what works and what doesn’t. Let’s learn from this and move forward. Because if the answer is don’t give computers to students or don’t let them play with them outside of class or don’t provide them until every teacher has been trained completely, then we may have just taken a step backward.

[…] in L.A. schools right now — they purchased 600,000 iPads and are having all kinds of problems,” he said in an email, referring to students who learned to bypass the security system on the […]


Unbelievable, if all they wanted was simple representation of digital content rather than books, why not go for a relatively dirt cheap B&W Kindle. I’ve left my Kindle on a bus before, it was handed in at lost property. Very little resale potential so nobody bothers to steal those yet it would do the basic stuff just fine.


The problem’s not Apple per se, it’s that tablets and laptops are a PITA in the classroom.

Even if each student has their own device (normally schools have a limited stock of laptops, tablets etc. that have to be booked and transported from A to B – a nightmare in and of itself), they’re not really any good for writing, taking photos or video. You’re better off with pen and paper, a camera or a camcorder.

What they are good for is research in class. Of course, a Kindle Fire is perfectly adequate for this purpose, and is less than half the price of an iPad mini. But the educational world seems to have an expensive crush on Apple. Guess the advertising works (see

[…] The inside story on LA schools’ iPad rollout: “a colossal disaster” | Digital… […]

[…] can’t be imposed. It has to be integrated. Thoughtful education news site The Hechinger Report cites insiders who claim L.A. officials rushed to spend money and provided little support to teachers on how to […]

[…] rumors come in the wake of LAUSD’s failed one-to-one iPad initiative, where within a month the devices were taken away from students. Deasy would have other, more […]

[…] crisis, including budget shortfalls, intense board politics, tougher academic standards, a troubled one-to-one Ipad initiative and a teachers union where 91 percent of members proclaimed to have no confidence in Deasy’s […]

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[…] writing about the iPad disaster in Los Angeles Unified, Hechinger’s Anya Kamenetz talked to a Chicago teacher who’s using iPads to help […]

[…] would be cheaper than hard-copy books, or whether schools should spend so much for a device without a keyboard. Simply digitizing textbooks wouldn’t change much about how kids learn, and iPads are […]

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[…] to Hechinger Report, a scheme to roll out iPads for students in California has been an unmitigated disaster (via […]

Coach bear

Let me begin by stating I am a teacher/coach of 31 years here in Baytown Texas where this past year our new supt decided to supply all seniors ( three high schools) with I pads and otter cases. Many objected because of the expense. Many welcomed the forward thought. Students screamed with utter ecstasy! I have taught mostly biology as well as a supervisory role of assistant principal for a few years. I know teach horticulture, food science, vet technician and advanced animal science, all senior laden classes full of iPads ! These are my observations.
1. We teachers were given several hours of training during the school year to prep us how to use the devices. Even though some already we experienced via iPhone it was not enough and being in the middle made the process RUSHED!!!! Anxiety flowed everywhere.
2. Almost all seniors took advantage of the free ipad for a school year and soon were teaching each other how to bypass all the districts walls and restrictions to watch all of Miley ‘s videos and the latest zombie death game.
3. Teachers complained about the seniors inappropriate use of iPads . Of course they only complained after handing out their worksheet fron 1983 so they could see the newest selfie by the former BFF who is now entering her fifth marriage 😉 oh, I may have failed to mention, senior teachers were also given iPads to uh, uh , guide the students.
4.students have already lost their iPads on purpose to pay the insurance rate to receive a new rental very cheaply as they keep one at home and will have after high school. Darn kids, they are very resourceful.
5. Apple administration squealed all the way to the bank as they addicted — I mean hooked– I mean prepared a new generation of addicts–I mean consumers– I mean future loyal patriotic citizens!

An ipad is nothing more than a smaller, sleeker stone tablet and chisel , ink quill and paper, or pencil and workbook. IT IS WHAT YOU MAKE OF IT! It has all to do with classroom management which is where the problem in education remains.
If you are an engaging teacher that has a good relationship with your students and your classroom culture is gnarly:) the potential with iPads is infinite!
The old quote that “it is usually the Indian and not the arrow” fits our ipad fiasco to a “t”.
Just envision the millions spent on iPads put into teacher salary increases. Would that make teachers better at their craft?? Not only no, but HELL no. What it would do is attract better applicants into the field of education so now administrators could push out ineffective teachers who are protected by a small talent pool.
Of course, the folks at apple would raise a ruckus that you are abusing our future generation(along with stopping them from affording their new beach house and Disney cruise).
Sorry for the long rant, just feel a personal attachment to this problem way down here in Texas where we still all ride horses to our oil wells that everyone has in their back yard. Gotta go, I hear oil a gushing and my gas well a fracking yeehaw$$$
Please email me if you have any serious questions.
Joe Berezoski
Coach Bear
Baytown Sterling HS
Heaven also known as Texas

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[…] other cases.  The Los Angeles Unified School District bought the biggest cart they could find – a $1 billion iPad initiative – and put it right in front of the horse.  The initiative was so monumental that the district […]

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The funding for this is provided through the Universal Service Fund, as part of the Schools and Libraries Program. That program is administered by USAC in Washington. They are responsible for ensuring that competitive bidding rules are followed.

Has USAC commented on this??

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