Los Angeles Needs Extra Money to Provide Keyboards for iPads

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) recently begun to implement an ambitious plan to buy and distribute iPads to its 640,000 students in the nation's second-largest school district by late 2014. But the school district has not budgeted expenses for buying wireless keyboards, which are recommended for students when they take new state standardized tests, and officials are now trying to figure out how to procure the necessary accessories. 

It is estimated that providing keyboards to all 640,000 students would cost more than $38 million at current retail prices, according to Howard Blume of Los Angeles Times.

As part of the $1 billion project, LAUSD has started rolling out iPads in a limited pilot. The first phase of the project is currently underway in 49 of the district's 1,124 K-12 schools. Each student will receive an iPad pre-loaded with educational applications and other programs useful in the classroom. Broadacres and Cimarron Elementary in Hawthorne became the first to roll out tablet computers and others have followed.

Under the plan, the district will spend $500 million on buying tablets from Apple and a further $500 million will be spent on items such as installing wireless Internet throughout the nation's second-largest school system. The project is funded by voter-approved school construction bonds, which typically are paid off by taxpayers over about 25 years.

The district plans to distribute tablets to all students by December 2014.

It's not clear if the district plans to provide keyboards for all, and officials were not prepared to estimate the cost during a meeting last week of a Board of Education committee that is tracking the iPad initiative. Board member Monica Ratliff, who chairs the panel, said the district needed to be transparent about such expenses. "It's important that the public is told of any additional costs that the district can predict," she said later.

The district's project does not include wireless keyboards, in part because the tablet computers have touch screens. But typing on a touch screen is difficult, and touch typing on screen might not satisfy the needs of older students writing term papers, for example. It could frustrate or hinder students as they take new online tests, as the device's touch screen could even obscure portions of a test item that would be visible in its entirety on a full screen.

For some time, the district has planned to use the devices for testing based on new English and math learning standards, called the Common Core, that were adopted by California and 44 other states. These new tests are supposed to measure deeper understanding, and they also will adapt to a student's knowledge, said Gerardo Loera, the district's executive director of curriculum and instruction.

According to Loera, she reviewed the difficulty of test items and concluded that too many district students were not ready to handle them. "I thought: My god, we have a lot of work to do," he told the Board of Education committee in a meeting.

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