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Los Angeles' 640,000 iPad Purchase: Too Big To Fail

Fraser Public Schools, MI purchased 5,000 iPads1 for its students. McAllen TX2 purchased 25,000 iPads and iPod touches for its students. And, Los Angeles just spent $500 million and purchased 640,000 iPads3 for its students (and another $500 million to provide infrastructure and support).  While the smaller purchases of iPads might fly under the radar, with Los Angeles’ headline-grabbing purchase, there is no hiding from the public eye any longer. 

We in educational technology know the challenges that exist in using technology effectively in the classroom. But, lest we forget, Matt Richtel and colleagues at the New York Times4, have been beating us up regularly over the last 14 months with article after article — oftentimes on the front-page and above the fold — recounting educational technology’s failures in K-12 classrooms. Even Apple, with its super-hero marketing apparatus, will find it hard to recover if those iPads go the way of so much of the other educational technology.

Indeed, who can forget the New York Times, front-page, article by Winne Hu5: “Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops.”  That was a Pearl Harbor moment in educational technology. “Some” schools — what an understatement! Ms. Hu reported that 1-to-1 laptop programs that were introduced with much fanfare just weren’t producing the kinds of results that justified the expenditures — and thus schools were not continuing using laptops and not continuing to purchase laptops. KABOOM!

Now, as we fly headlong into the Age of Mobilism, a new generation of computing devices is on offer. The number of tablets purchased in the 4th  quarter of 2013 will equal the number of PCs purchased during that same time period6. So, now we hear about 1-to-1 tablet initiatives! (In our next blog, we will have “something” to say about the New York Times article — No Child Untableted7”)

There is legitimate concern for the success of the LA iPad initiative:

  1. The LA Times article reported that teachers “had three days of training on both the iPad and the state's new learning standards....”8
  2. At the two schools where the iPads were initially rolled out one campus had no wireless network while the other school’s technology situation was “only marginally better”9.
  3. We went to the LAUSD Web site10 and typed “iPads” into the search box. 218 items were returned. Sadly, the articles were on a potpourri of topics — we didn’t see even one that said: here’s how to use the iPad to teach English in 3rd grade, for example. The search engine allowed Spanish input but of the 218 articles returned there were only five in Spanish — again a random collection.  Indeed, on Sept. 15 there wasn’t one article on the LAUSD site that talked about the $1billion iPad initiative.
  4. While it appears that the students can take the iPads home, we found no description of the cases that were being purchased to protect the iPads.

No point belaboring LAUSD’s challenging situation.

It’s time for our community to circle the wagons and help. We are all busy with our own classes. We are all struggling with our own limited budgets and our own “marginal” technology.  But, if there ever was an educational technology initiative that was too big to fail — LAUSD is that project. In 12 months, if the New York Times roasts LAUSD with an article like “Seeing No Progress, LAUSD Drops iPads” the fallout will be huge — and LAUSD will not be the only district that will be "tarred with radioactive publicity," to mix a metaphor.

Here’s a start for how we can help:

  • Teachers: Know a teacher in LAUSD? Call her or him and say: “hey, here’s how I use iPads; let me help.”
  • Companies: Adopt an LAUSD school and give the teachers extended PD and your software — gratis. The good press you will receive will return real financial rewards.
  • Local educational technology researchers: Adopt an LAUSD school and help them to use the iPads effectively.

What we, the educational technology community, learn in LAUSD will help all schools who are struggling to use mobile devices effectively. And the bottom line is this: WE CAN NOT FAIL IN LAUSD.  LAUSD must succeed — so, let’s get to it!

About the Authors

Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor and Chair in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at

Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at