Problems Stall Major Tablet Rollouts Nationwide

Following a series of glitches in high-profile rollouts, school districts across the country are rethinking major investments in computer tablets and iPads. Schools have increasingly embraced iPads and similar mobile technology as teaching tools to meet growing needs of modern education system. But due to technical problems, higher than anticipated costs and uncertain security, districts in California, Texas and North Carolina are changing course.

The Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) $1 billion program to provide iPads came under fire after school officials found that students broke security measures that were intended to block free internet browsing. Students uninstalled security software and accessed social media, online games and other content that was supposed to be blocked.

LAUSD, which is the nation’s second-largest school district, plans to distribute iPads to its 640,000 students by late 2014. The hacking scandal led the district to temporarily halt the project in early October. The school district has decided to take back thousands of tablets from students at three high schools and required the devices to remain on-campus in all 30 schools where the effort had been rolled out. They’ve even solicited student hackers to help them fix the problems.

The district scheduled a special board meeting on October 29th to assess the $50 million first phase of the program before voting to fund the second and third phases, write Stephanie Banchero and Erica E. Phillips of The Wall Street Journal.

LAUSD wants to provide every student with a tablet employing digital, interactive curricula designed to meet Common Core math and reading standards adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. Under a contract, the school district will pay Apple $678 for each iPad.

Los Angeles school board member Bennett Kayser said the district’s initiative was “hastily planned” and several “red flags” were overlooked, such as the potential expense of lost or stolen devices and questions about the completeness of the installed curriculum software. Plus, he added, “There is no silver bullet or Superman here; technology is a tool, not an end unto itself.”

The Center for Digital Education, a national research and advisory institute specializing in education technology trends and policy, estimates that K-12 schools nationwide are expected to spend $9.7 billion on technology in 2013, up from $6 billion in 2003.

In Maryland, Kansas, North Dakota and elsewhere, schools districts are rolling out tablets to thousands of students this year — and they’re watching Los Angeles closely.

According to Leslie Wilson of the Michigan-based One-to-One Institute, laptops and tablets can be beneficial of they are chosen with student achievement in mind, rather than on the “glitziness” of the product.

Critics, however, charge that schools often roll out technology programs with little forethought and point to research on the use of technology in the classrooms showing inconclusive results. A new study by the Texas Center for Educational Research found no difference in test scores between middle-school students who got laptops and those who did not.

Fort Bend Independent School District in suburban Houston recently decided to end a $16 million iPad initiative after an audit this month found, among other things, teachers complaining the curricula on the tablets were incomplete and didn’t align with the district’s instructional goals. The district distributed about 6,000 tablets with an interactive science curriculum to fourth- through eighth-graders.

In addition, Guilford County Schools in Greensboro, North Carolina suspended a $30 million program to provide 15,000 middle-school students Amplify tablets after students broke screens of some tablets and a student’s charger melted at home.

“A tablet is a tool that can enhance a lesson and engage kids,” said Nichole Carter, an eighth-grade English teacher who was part of the tablet pilot program last year. “But you really have to know your content and understand how to teach for it to be effective in helping children learn.”