iPad Problems not Unexpected, says Oversight Panel Chairman

stephen english

Stephen English, Chair of School Construction Bond Oversight Committee

The head of the group that oversees capital expenditures of LA Unified says problems arising in Phase 1 of the district’s new iPad program do not appear serious enough to disrupt Phase 2.

“I don’t think the level of problems was greater than what we anticipated,” Stephen English, chairman of the district’s School Construction Bond Citizens’ Oversight Committee, said in an interview with LA School Report. “That’s why we have a pilot program. It’s better for problems to come up with 47 schools than with 10 times that number.”

The iPad program supports the district’s shift to the Common Core teaching curriculum. It was approved in January by the Oversight Committee, a 15-member volunteer group that monitors infrastructure spending, despite objections by some members that iPads fell beyond the scope of school modernization. The program now represents what is estimated to be $1 billion in spending, for hardware, software and internet access in school sites that don’t have it.

So far, iPads have been distributed to students in about half of 47 LA Unified schools in Phase 1, with the rest on the way. Through next year, the district plans to distribute the tablets to 300 schools in each of the next two phases of the program to reach all 650,000 students in the district.

Phase 1, which represents about $30 million in spending, has drawn public scrutiny largely for what has gone wrong — security breaches at several high schools, students’ taking iPads home and confusion among parents regarding their responsibility for a broken or stolen device. One recent Los Angeles Times headline said the iPad rollout has been “marred by chaos.”

But English expressed satisfaction with how Superintendent John Deasy and district officials responded to the glitches. “In handing a project of this complexity and size, the district has done a passing job – very well in some areas and not so well in others,” he said. “Overall, the district has demonstrated that it has been able to do this. Deasy said he’s very proud of what the district has done, and he’s got things to be proud of.”

Of greater concern to the committee, English said, is whether aspects of the program going forward remain consistent with state law that regulates how bond funds can he spent. As an example, he cited a condition of Phase 1, that iPads should remain at the school. After some were home with students, Deasy notified schools that all iPads must remain at the school site.

If the district relaxed the rule, allowing students to take their iPads home, that would be a change the panel would need to examine to make sure it the program remains in compliance, English said.

He also said “a major concern of ours” is how the district intends to sustain the iPad program in years to come when the current tablets and software might be outdated or unusable.

“Those are the things we look at most closely,” he said.

English said that the committee played no role in the district’s choices of Apple iPads as hardware and Pearson instructional software, nor did it second-guess the district’s decision to buy them, despite public complaints that less expensive products might have served just as well. He said Deasy and the committee discussed the choices and pricing after contracts were signed.

“Our discussions,” English said, “reflected what was in the presentation.” It’s not the committee’s inclination, he added “to say we think it ought to be adjusted this way or that.”

The iPad program comes under review twice this month, at a special school board meeting on the 29th and the oversight committee’s next meeting, the following day.

Previous Posts: Board Turns a ‘Retreat’ into a Special Meeting on iPads; LA Unified Removes iPads From Hackers’ High Schools; LA Unified Wants Student Hackers on an Anti-Hacking Panel; iPads Hacked? ‘Surprised it Took This Long,’ Says Zimmer