L.A. Schools Chief Derides $1.3-Billion “Gimmick of the Year” iPads for All

Monday, February 23, 2015
iPad with virtual keyboard (photo: Reuters)

Ramon C. Cortines, the veteran educator hired by Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) after Superintendent John Deasy was pressured to leave amid the failed $1.3-billion iPads for All program, called his predecessor’s career capstone the “Gimmick of the Year” and made it clear the dream was over.   

Deasy put the expansion on hold in August 2014 and resigned under fire in October. Cortines was quickly brought on board and shortly thereafter indicated a desire to expand the project, aimed at equipping all 640,000 students with technology and software, to 27 more schools.   

The district unanimously approved the program in mid-2013 and ordered around 110,000 iPads and software to facilitate teaching with new, national Common Core standards. The program had a disastrous rollout at 47 schools that fall.

Virtual keyboards proved impractical, so $38 million in real keyboards was put on the tab. Kids hacked their way past security barriers to use banned social media—and access websites they legitimately needed for homework. The district belatedly struggled to create a policy for handling lost or broken iPads.  

Questions were raised about the legality of using school construction bond funds for the project, and defenders of the program wondered if political opposition had something to do with spending precious education dollars on the lower-income, multi-cultural students who predominate at LAUSD.

On December 1, 2014, FBI agents descended on district headquarters and carted away boxes of documents about the project as part of a criminal investigation. A school district internal draft report first reported four months earlier by the Los Angeles Times cited a lack of transparency during the bidding process. Among its complaints, the report said that project specifications were changed after much of the competition had been eliminated from the process. It also cited appearances of a conflict of interest between Deasy, his staff and vendors.

The next day, Cortines thought better of the 27-school expansion and reversed the decision. The 82-year-old, three-time LAUSD superintendent—he was last in charge from January 2009 to April 2011—completed his U-turn last week when he told a gaggle of reporters, “I don't believe we can afford a device for every student.”

Cortines said the district really never had a solid plan for how the computers would be integrated into the school system and how the district would pay for them. He advocated a more balanced spending approach and said he wanted a $1 billion in bond money to fix up dilapidated campuses.   

The district has already decided to diversify its technology purchases to include devices other than iPads and companies other than Apple.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

After iPad Initiative Failure, School Supe Says LA Can’t Buy Computers for All (by Megan Geuss, Ars Technica)

Los Angeles Schools Chief to Seek Halt to Computers-for-All Program (by Sharon Bernstein, Reuters)

L.A. Unified Says It Can't Afford "Computer for All” Plan (by Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times)

FBI Raids L.A. School District over iPads-for-All Fiasco (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Leave a comment