LA Unified Board Votes to Reshape iPad Program

iPads -- for now.

iPads — for now.

The LA Unified school board re-calibrated its push for technology in the classroom last night, voting to continue into a second phase of its iPad plan but also to launch a pilot test of laptops among high school students. Further technology plans will depend on the outcome of a study.

The decision — approved by a 6-1 vote with Tamar Galatzan as the dissenter — culminated a long and impassioned debate about how fast to get computer devices in the hands of students who really need it. The 2 1/2 hour discussion, which ended an 8-hour board meeting, reflected sharp divisions between members who think it’s better to move swiftly, with iPads, and members who argue that different students require different devices. Members also expressed discomfort with the district’s deal with Apple and called for a reexamination of terms for future purchases.

The final resolution, adopted at 9 p.m., represented a merger of a plan offered by board member Monica Ratliff, which called for a more thorough evaluation of the iPad program and a delayed rollout of devices, and the scaled down Phase 2 rollout that Superintendent John Deasy submitted to the board several weeks ago.

Over the next several months, the district will distribute about 40,000 tablets across 35 elementary and middle school campuses. Another 30,000 will go to the district’s teachers, principals and administrators. And the administration’s procurement team will purchase keyboards for all elementary and middle school students so they can take the Smarter Balanced assessments in the spring.

And as Ratliff’s motion originally suggested, seven high schools will receive laptop computers instead of iPads, a possible prelude to laptops replacing iPads for high school students.

The meeting was also significant for its style. Board President Richard Vladovic, who survived an effort by Galatzan earlier in the day to censure him for bad behavior, played the Great Peace Maker during the iPad debate, making strong efforts to fashion a compromise whenever exasperated board members appeared ready to throw in the towel or resist budging from a position. Close to 8 pm, Marguerite LaMotte said the board was “trying to do too much” and suggested tabling the discussion for another day.

But Vladovic held firm. “We’re almost there,” he said several times, waving his arms as if to bring wandering children into the sandbox.

Gestures of peace were especially helpful during heated exchanges between Ratliff and Galatzan, who argued against more studies and wanted to pull the trigger on the deployment of more iPads in her own district. At one point Galatzan referred to Ratliff as “Ma’am” and said, “If we wait, it’s going to be insane.” When Galatzan complained that she didn’t understand some of the words Ratliff used in her resolution, Ratliff responded by saying she was “confident in [Galatzan’s] ability to read.”

Both Ratliff and Galatzan are lawyers.

Steve Zimmer also seemed to grow frustrated, bringing up the district’s contract with Apple, after saying “I didn’t want to go there.” But he went there anyway, as the debate delved deeper into intricacies of policy.

“Since the gloves are off and we’re being completely honest about this, I need to say that I don’t feel like we have the best contract,” he said, referring to a deal that is costing the district $678 for each iPad and the Pearson software on it.

“There is to me an inexplicable defense of this contract,” he continued. “I feel like I’m locked into a specific device and locked into a curriculum that may not be, one year from now, where we want to go.”

With Vladovic pushing for members to accept pieces of each other’s positions, Deasy stepped in to stitch the ideas together. It was the first time he participated in an expanded board discussion involving iPads since he sold his stock in Apple.

Deasy asked Monica Garcia to withdraw a resolution that would have given more iPads to schools only within her district—Galatzan had joined her in that approach. And he said he was “intrigued” by Ratliff’s idea to equip high school students with laptops. “If we move forward with that, we will be an industry leader on that piece,” he said.

By the end, the board had at least defined the near future. What lies beyond is uncertain, apart from the promise of more very long and probably contentious board meetings.

Previous Posts: Ratliff is seeking alternatives to using iPads in LA Unified’s futureLA Unified Board will address two controversies, Vladovic and iPadsLA Unified Board sees a digital future without Apple iPads.