iPad Deployments To Continue at Los Angeles District in Time for Testing
- By Dian Schaffhauser
In spite of what has been classified as a "criminal investigation" at the Los Angeles Unified School District regarding its discontinued 1-to-1 iPad program, the district is plowing ahead with purchases of iPads to prepare its students for Smarter Balanced online assessments. At the same time the district will also be purchasing Google Chromebooks. The announcement came yesterday in a statement from the district, which said it would be moving forward with the purchases under different contracts than the one that the FBI is now investigating as part of a federal grand jury probe.
The district's Common Core Technology Project offered the promise of outfitting every teacher and student with a mobile device from Apple and software for email and content sharing. Curriculum, provided by Pearson, was also part of the initial planning. The contract for that program was axed in August by then-superintendent John Deasy, who came under fire along with his Deputy Superintendent Jaime Aquino for alleged misconduct related to the bidding process. Both have denied the allegations and have since left the district.
The Daily Breeze, a Torrance, CA newspaper, reported that the United States Attorney's Office had subpoenaed "emails, notes, financial records, videos and other records" related to the contract process that chose Apple to provide iPads and Pearson curriculum. Those were to be delivered no later than Dec. 5 to a federal grand jury investigating the situation.
This is the first time, according to L.A. Unified's general counsel, Dave Holmquist, that the district has faced a federal probe of a contract deal.
Deasy's replacement, Superintendent Ramon Cortines, emphasized that the district would offer "its full cooperation to federal authorities during the course of the investigation."
He said that the district expects to address flaws in its bidding process based on the findings of an internal investigation by the district's inspector general. A new contract for the 1-to-1 program will be in place in time to deploy student devices for the beginning of the next school year, he said.
However, he added, "Due to the urgency of allowing our students to prepare for testing in the spring, we will continue with a different contract with Apple to provide iPads and a contract with another vendor, Arey Jones, to provide Chromebooks for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests. I have informed both the Board of Education and the Bond Oversight Committee of my decisions, and they are supportive."
That Apple contract has been in place since June 2013; the contract with Arey Jones was put in place last January.
Neither of those contracts is in dispute, Cortines told the Torrance newspaper. The purchase is part of a $13 million bond funding project approved by the district's Board of Education in November specifically intended to provide schools with a sufficient number of computing devices to be used for the assessments. The purchase includes 14,875 iPads and keyboards and 4,000 Chromebooks, maintained in carts.
Los Angeles teachers union UTLA said it "welcomes" the federal investigation into how Apple was awarded the contract. Calling the iPad initiative "flawed" from the beginning, President Alex Caputo-Pearl encouraged the grand jury to question the former superintendent "about the ill-fated iPad project." "He cannot simply resign and leave a mess for others to clean up," Caputo-Pearl said in a statement. "If this rises to the level of criminality, the former superintendent must be held accountable for his actions."
Meanwhile, the vision behind the Technology Project that sparked the firestorm continues to receive district executive support, albeit with more school influence and less reliance on Apple in place. "Our students deserve the best tools available to meet the requirements to be successful in the 21st century workforce," Cortines said. "Without the appropriate tools, they will be disadvantaged compared to their peers across the entire nation. We also need to keep the dialogue open with our schools. We want [the next phase] to provide more options than previous phases so that our students are fully utilizing the most appropriate and current devices available."
The timeline for the implementation is expected to be announced in the coming weeks.
Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.