Coachella Superintendent Calls iPads ‘Great Equalizer’

California’s Coachella Valley Unified school district recently gave an iPad to each of its 20,000 students, knocking nearby districts completely offline.

To remedy the situation, superintendent Dr. Darryl Adams wants the district to become its own Internet service provider.

“This program represents a shift in the education paradigm,” Adams said. “And I won’t let something like connectivity stand in the way of that.”

Adams began the program in an effort to “level the haves and have nots.”  In a district where 98.9% of the residents are Hispanic, most have low-paying agricultural jobs.  Almost 80% of the district’s students live in poverty and many do not have Internet access.

“The expectations were kind of, ‘OK, you got a high school diploma, great,’” Adams said. “But only 16% were graduating from college. You can’t say that’s OK just because of the district’s socioeconomic background.”

Adams launched the program in 2011.  The following year, taxpayers approved a $42 million tax plan to continue funding.  iPads were leased and insured, hotspots were installed, and teachers were trained.  The district was ready to roll, or so they thought.

Because so many students were logging on, surrounding school districts who share an Internet connection were either slowed down or not able to connect.

“We were blindsided,” Adams said. “The county knew what we were doing every step of the way. So it was surprising that they didn’t do anything, in terms of connectivity.”

To address the problem, Adams would like the district to no longer need to rely on the county for Internet connection.  Instead, he is looking into a way for the district to become its own Internet service provider, saying “If a county can be an ISP, why not a school?”

In an effort to save money, the district decided to no longer use an insurance company to cover the tablets, instead choosing to “self-insure” the iPads through a cash reserve.  This move is estimated to save taxpayers $450,000.  The decision came after a school board vote, where it was announced that only 1% of the 18,000 iPads in use were lost or broken, writes Brett Kelman for The Desert Sun.

Students are currently using the iPads for many of their classes, including a recording-arts class taught by Adams using the software Garage Band.  Adams plans on using the iPads for “really anything that will unleash them from the shackles of the desk.”

It is unclear whether the iPads will help boost students’ test scores, a point that Adams does not place much emphasis on.  Instead, he places value on qualitative results rather than quantitative.  He did tell Julianne Pepitone for NBC News that the district has data that show “continual improvement in learning and in test scores.”

In the meantime, Adams is busy writing a book that will show other schools how to create their own connectivity programs, including how to get around the bandwidth issues.

“The technological divide between the rich and the poor is the civil rights issue of the 21st century, and the divide is getting bigger,” Adams said. “Education can be the equalizer. And I won’t let anything stand in the way of that.”