A Second Look at iPads in Los Angeles

The rollout of iPads in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is becoming a classic case study of what not-to-do when implementing any innovation whether it is high-tech or low-tech.  I wrote about the adoption of the innovation six months ago.

What is clear now is that teachers and principals were excluded from the decision-making process. The Total Cost of Operation (TCO) was a mystery to the Board of Education who made the decision. And the initial deployment of the devices was so botched that the pilot project was put on hold.  Phase 2 and the eventual distribution of devices to all LAUSD students remains to be decided once errors have been sorted out.

Called The Common Core Technology Project, each iPad costs the district $678,  higher than the price of an iPad bought in an Apple store, but it comes with a case (no keyboard, however) and an array of pre-loaded software aimed at preparing students for the impending Common Core standards and the state online testing system. The Board of Education and Superintendent John Deasy want each student to have access to an iPad. With  mostly Latino and poor students in LAUSD, the eventual cost of this contract with Apple Inc. could run over $400 million.

Were the Board and Superintendent to have paused and examined the history of using technology in public schools, they might have thought twice before major bollixes occurred.

1. There is no body of evidence that iPads will increase math and reading scores on state standardized tests. There is no evidence that students using iPads (or laptops or desktop computers) will get decent paying jobs after graduation.

These are the most common reasons boards of education and school administrators across the nation give for buying tablets for K-12 students. But not in LAUSD.

Acquiring 1:1 iPads for students, according to the LAUSD press release is to: “provide an individualized, interactive and informative-rich learning environment” for every student. One would have to assume that such an “environment” would lead to gains in test scores. But it is an assumption. Since many low-income families do not have computers at home or Internet connections, providing iPads is a worthy reason–what used to be called “closing the digital divide“–for the large expenditure.

On what basis, however, will the district determine whether to move to phase 2 of the plan? Again, according to the official press release, the assessment of this first phase “will include feedback … from teachers, students, parents and other key stakeholders.” That’s it. No hard data on how often the devices were used, in what situations, and under what conditions. Nor mention of data on student outcomes.

Now, informal surveys of teachers and school administrators show mixed reactions, even disaffection for iPads in classrooms.

2. Apart from “closing the digital divide,” the main reason for the Apple Inc. contract is that Common Core standards and accompanying online tests are on the horizon and due to arrive in 2014-2015. LAUSD wants teachers and students to be ready.

3. The true cost of this experiment runs far higher than the projected $400 million to give iPads to 655,000 students. That is what Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) means. The cost for the iPad is given as $678 per unit (remember, there is no keyboard usually listed at $100 which will have to be bought eventually for secondary school students).Now, budget-watchers discovered that the devices will cost even more. An Oops! that surprised the Board of Education.

Funds to hire school technical assistants, providing the wireless infrastructure, loss of tablets, and repair of broken tablets, insurance, professional development for teachers, costs for replacement devices when three-year warranties expire—I could go on but these numbers double and triple the published hardware and software costs. Consider that the reports of the $30 million contract with Apple Inc. omitted that the Board of Education approved $50 million for this first phase to accommodate some of these other costs detailed above.

And just a few days ago, a major Oops! was announced when the Board of Education, in questioning a top administrator, discovered that the software license to use the math and English curriculum expires after three years—the clock began ticking last July when the Board approved the contract. Renewal of the license in just over two years will cost another $60 million. Add that to the TCO.

Intel, a company with a vested interest in Microsoft tablets and a losing competitor in the LAUSD bid for a contract, produced a white paper that pointed out that TCO runs from two to three times higher than the announced price of the device. No one said a word about that.

The point is that administrators and school boards eager to buy devices hide TCO in separate documents or glossy verbiage. In other instances, they simply do not know or care to find out in their enthusiasm for the innovation.  LAUSD experienced a perfect storm of mistakes in plunging into iPads without much forethought and a glance in the rear-view mirror for earlier reform debacles in putting into practice a high-tech innovation.


Filed under leadership, school reform policies, technology use

58 responses to “A Second Look at iPads in Los Angeles

  1. Pingback: Quote Of The Day: “A Second Look at iPads in Los Angeles” | Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

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  3. Fifteen years ago this sorry tale would have surprised and depressed me. Today…it beggars belief.

  4. Reblogged this on From experience to meaning… and commented:
    Don’t get this post wrong: it’s not about being against tablets or iPads, but about not following the hype but taking some distance instead.

  5. HI Larry, as a former LAUSD teacher and Academic Coach I am not surprised by the lack of forethought in this major expenditure by the district. LAUSD has a research and development branch which may of been bypassed or simply forgotten the basics of research.. The hidden expenses as you mentioned will certainly double the cost of the equipment and lead to a considerable amount of misuse and lack of use by classroom teachers. It is unfortunate as the IPAD is a great tool but might not be the right tool for students in this district. LAUSD mirrors much of the social class structure we see nationwide. Those who “have” will undoubtedly have an IPAD at home and those who “have not” will need teachers who have strong technological pedagogical content knowledge as well as time, resources and training to implement IPADS beyond the basic function of tap and swipe.

    • larrycuban

      Thank you, Patricia, for your comment. It is startling to hear these Oops!after all of the experience that districts have had with implementing technological and non-technological innovations.

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  7. Daniel T. Pollitt

    Hi Dr. Cuban,

    I last commented on a post of yours back in September:


    I since have completed my dissertation study and successfully defended my PhD. In short, I compared the iPad iBook to a traditional textbook. I used five different measures (reading comprehension, electrodermal activity, cognitive workload, satisfaction, and qualitative interviews) and a repeated measures methodology to investigate the learning differences between the “business as usual” traditional textbook and the iPad’s iBooks Author software, which allows teachers to create their own textbooks using interactive widgets such as videos and audio clips.

    I was most recently a 4-5 grade teacher working primarily with students with specific learning disabilities, so my sample size was small (n = 22). However this was one of the very first empirical studies I found in my literature review that actually investigated the effects of an iPad book on learning outcomes. This is really scary–as you mention in your first point–there’s simply no empirical grounding of iPad use in the classroom to improve academic outcomes. We can make some inferences using related technologies like computer assisted-instruction or assistive technology, but generally we are very quick to put the cart before the horse.

    What did I find? Most of my findings were not statistically significant (I hypothesize due to low statistical power and sample size), however my findings suggest a few things: (1) The iPad iBook performed nearly as well as the traditional textbook in measures of reading comprehension and (2) students preferred the iPad on measures of electrodermal activity (a physiological measure) and satisfaction. Some of this is a “duh” moment: We like the iPad, it is engaging and fun and generally an enjoyable experience. However–and these results are to be taken with a grain of salt–in my opinion, the iPad is a promising endeavor for classroom learning, but it is wrong to invest schools’ limited resources into a device we do not fully understand how to best leverage.

    Most telling, perhaps, were the qualitative interviews. Students were generally aware that one book form (the iPad) was the new, innovative learning environment, but were unsure how to utilize them. This serves as a cautionary tale for future classroom use of the iPad and the value of professional development and a clearly-defined technology plan:

    “I liked it [the traditional textbook] because it’s a lot easier to read. And that’s my opinion, but since we are getting into that era where everything is computerized, I’m going to have to get into the iPad stuff, I can already tell now.” And another student: “I can read easier on the iPad iBook but remember better on a textbook. I’m just more used to it on the textbook.”


    Dan Pollitt
    Center for Research on Learning
    University of Kansas
    dpollitt at ku dot edu

    • larrycuban

      Yes, Dan, I remember your comment comparing our experiences using technologies in the classroom years ago.
      First,thank you for telling me and readers about your dissertation study with special needs kids comparing iPads and textbooks.The scarcity of such studies is, as you say,”scary.” The novelty of iPads surely engage students initially (and teachers also) but without a clear view of how the hardware/software advance the lessons the teacher teaches, novelty wears thin in time.
      Second, I appreciated the quotes from kids that you sent along.

  8. Pingback: Larry Cuban on the Los Angeles iPad Fiasco | Diane Ravitch's blog

  9. TC

    I would put forth the possibility that having people younger than 11 hunting and pecking for letters is a big waste of time. Let them write with a pencil tool. Second, if we are to switch to keyboards at 11 or 12, is the qwerty keyboard the proper standard? I had heard it was designed so that the arms of a mechanical typewriter wouldn’t stick together, so that seems a little obsolete in and of itself.

    Technology and entertainment and the combination thereof is a distraction to learning.

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  11. Thanks for your continuing vigilance, Larry and Daniel.
    My building issued iPads to all students this year, and is pushing teachers to use the Schoology App for assignments, classwork, and “flipped” homework.

    Out of about 1600 students, we’ve already had 200+ (and counting) broken iPads. Santa is bringing cases for them tomorrow, after FREAKING OUT and threatening in-house suspensions for kids who fail to use the cases.

    Last year, they forced kids to pick up the $53 insurance fee, and billed very low-income 9th grade families for uninsured broken devices. Some crony of the administration possibly expected to make a bundle on the insurance for the expansion project, but if you do the math you’ll see the reason for the panic.

    The thing is a distraction for the kids, but that might not be all bad. They conspire mightily to preserve their opportunities to play with them. However stupid and corrupt in concept and execution, it’s an interesting boondoggle they’re part of..

    Honors students overwhelmingly say they’d rather have a laptop, and hate being required to take notes and turn in assignments through the tablets. iPads are really inconvenient for real text editing, video production, interface with probeware (we still don’t have the licences for that App), and you can’t write code on them. You’re a helpless consumer of clunky beta products.

    The kids who voice approval for the tablet devices are the same subset who are failing half their classes behind being “held accountable” to the things. They’re “taking responsibility” for being lured into social distractions and games by a device designed to do just that.

  12. ira shor

    Hello, Larry–long time since we met last at Stanford. Thanks so much for your blog, esp this on the iPad fiasco. Here in Montclair, NJ, once a liberal school bastion of integration, a neo-lib board hired a Broadie supt. from the Christie Admin, even tho this town just voted 70% against the Gov. New Supt. pushing CCSS and PARCC ferociously and easing way to go online route to displace textbooks. For now, our parent opposition group needs info on the fiscal and cognitive boondoggle of iPads, so you blog and responses to it very helpful. I’m arguing here that PARCC requirement for online testing will bankrupt our school budget….keep posting…many thanks, ira shor

    • larrycuban

      Nice to hear from you. I have followed the Montclair story in the New York and hope the organized parents keep fighting.

  13. Reblogged this on peakmemory and commented:
    Larry Cuban raises questions about the adoption of I-pads in the class room:
    ” There is no body of evidence that iPads will increase math and reading scores on state standardized tests”

  14. As a parent and former teacher, there is just so much to be worried about. We seem to be getting suckered into thinking this is just the way things are going. I find my children so incredibly distracted when trying to accomplish any online work (which I totally understand, because as an adult, I too am distracted.)

    I worry that content will change at will by those who seem to be revising/re-writing history and refocusing our children’s education on empty skill-sets under the guise of making them college and career ready. Meanwhile, companies with clear global and contra-American agendas will serve up whatever content they choose, most likely to the ignorance of parents.

    I find it worrisome that organizations like this: http://www.air.org/files/AIR_Personalized_Learning_Issue_Paper_2013.pdf are issuing papers to support a movement from which they will benefit, and which is being orchestrated by the federal and state governments to re-write public school education to steer us towards the “personalized” environment which demands our children’s test/behavioral data in order to create appropriate products.

    Too many people are ignoring child development and childhood; no one is considering the opportunity cost of foregoing a healthy, active and creative early childhood education for one that utilizes 1-1 devices to constantly tweak and poke whatever brain centers are excited by them. All way to creepy and experimental and seems to ignore everything we know about children.

  15. Elin

    This article is a look to what is coming our way in West Contra Costa Unified School District (8 cities; 30,000 students; 1800 teachers; Hercules in the north to El Cerrito in the south).

    Two days before winter break an IT person from the district offices came out to my elementary school. An all call came through the speaker system asking each teacher to come to the teacher’s lounge and pick up their new personal iPad saying that the the district needed to equalize the schools because the Title 1 schools have had them for more than two years now.

    So, ok now what, how is this equal? No explanation on how to set it up and make it operable in my classroom…on how to connect it to my computer and use it successfully.

    For two years now the 4th and 5th grade class teachers, those computer savvy enough to install and link their own iPod to the classroom computer or by having knowledgeable volunteer parents make the connections have had the set ups up and running, but none in the lower grades have these setups.

    It’s like buying your children a Ferrari and putting them on a treasure hunt to find the the keys. When I asked for clues of the woman from the IT department she said, “just do it!”

    • larrycuban

      Unfortunately, Elin, your story about what happened a few days ago in your school is all too common across the state and country. There are, of course, district ITs who work closely with teachers in preparing new hardware and software applied to lessons, answer questions, listen to teachers as they cope with classroom problems,bring people together to help one another and the like. I do not hear too often from those places. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I wish you well in using your iPad with your children next month.

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  18. gitapik

    I’ve been doing tech workshops for teachers and teaching elementary kids using technology for a while, now. I always stress the importance of using the medium(s) as a PART of the lesson plans. What we’re seeing here is as transparent as a newly cleaned pane of glass: big business wants to make big bucks and education is the cash cow of the decade.

    Tech isn’t the be all and end all of anything. It’s a powerful tool. So is a pencil. Administrators need to come back down to earth and realize this as a basic truth. I always get a kick out of the workshops/sales ops where the equipment doesn’t work right. That happens in the classroom, too. It’s one of many tools.

    • larrycuban

      Thanks for taking the time to comment on the post.

    • Lynetta

      Thanks. I also conduct ed tech workshops for the us army. I often remind the resistant students that the technology is a tool just like pencils and paper, and should be leveraged; instead of simply taking over. I fear “throwing the baby out with the bath water” will occur in all of these instances of poor technology implementation.

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  22. Nina Muhammad

    Reading this further illustrates the “why” in why some school districts have problems. My take away from reading this is – the school board wanted to show the public that they are incorporating innovative technology (via Ipads) and THIS will in turn increase test scores and “close the digital divide”. However, as I continued to read it, it really became clear that they were hoping it would work rather than understanding HOW it would work. The most interesting thing me is their logic behind excluding the teachers and principals from the decision making process. Were they excluded because they would have raised valid oppositions to this? Would they have questioned the cost and the valid point of the continuous increase over time? Would they have raised opposition to each student receiving an Ipad because its may be irrelevant to their learning environment? What ever the questions would have been I think they should have been given the right to ask. More often than not, have I seen this type of thinking on a corporate level and from what I’ve noticed… they always have to go back and fix it later. Why not include ALL the people who can help make this a success in the schools? Technology can be an AMAZING teaching/learning tool if used properly. I think school districts need to figure out the HOW (the HOW is different for everyone) in using technology, incorporated it accordingly, understand the details/the long term and success will follow.

    • larrycuban

      Thank you, Nina, for your comment on the importance of teachers and principals being involved in the decision to buy,deploy, and implement electronic devices early on and for the entire period of making the decision.

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  24. Jamie

    Our school district wants to implement 1:1 policy of ipads for the high school level. They will do this over giving the teachers raises or professional development. Is there a good summary I can give at my school board meeting of the research on learning and ipads with sources I can cite? It just seems like they are jumping in head first without actually examining the data critically. The district itself is extremely affluent, but yet pays the teachers in the bottom quartile for our state and doesnt want to pay for professional development for common core. I am hoping that I can speak well about this.

  25. I just stumbled across this web site, and glad I did! I have for quite sometime enjoyed reading literature written by Dr. Larry Cuban. More importantly, I deeply share his concerns about the rush to adopt iPads. While the iPad is a wonderfully entertaining device, the adoption rate far exceeds rational integration into many environments. To say that publicly seems to be politically incorrect in many circles, and can lead to ostracism. However, the truth will eventually prevail. The LAUSD debacle will likely become a seminal example of poor technology planning.

    Dan Pollitt had an excellent post, where he shared a student quote “I can read easier on the iPad iBook but remember better on a textbook. I’m just more used to it on the textbook.” This should come as no surprise. Students employ active reading strategies when reading for information; highlighting, annotating, writing in margins, coding, underlining, etc. Active reading has been well researched by Adler and Van Doren (1972). With respect to reading devices, PARC has an extensive amount of quality research that flushes out the importance of active reading using digital reading devices. One might also read the E-Reader pilot study from Princeton University (2009) for additional insight. Reading devices cannot sacrifice active reading strategies for other digital features. Simply put, active reading strategies are more cumbersome, and much less efficient using digital tools. Students roundly reject reading digital textbooks mostly because of active reading strategies.

    Keyboard input is still the primary method of input. To ignore that borders on the absurd. Students in secondary education create most content using a keyboard (and mouse). Beyond efficient text input, there is a mountain of research that indicates writing quality using word processing is greatly influenced by typing speed. Students are much more likely to revise and create multiple iterations IF typing speed is greater than handwriting speed. Students need efficient keyboard input, and touch typing skills.

    Lastly, handwriting on tablets is very unnatural and distracting. Only when a tablet has an active digitizer does handwriting become natural and effortless. We cannot ignore the importance of note taking and written form using a tablet. I’ve written some articles about active digitizers on tablets:


    If you would like to watch a scribed presentation about educational technology with respect to active reading, keyboarding/touch typing/writing efficiency, watch this video on youtube about “Educational Technology and Avoiding Technolust.”

    Please feel free to connect with me if you would like to further discuss any of these issues, or any issue in Educational Technology.

    Thanks Dr. Larry for your continued voice of reason!

    Mark Taormino, Ed.D.

    • larrycuban

      Thanks, Mark, for your comments and links to your items on your blog about tablets and kids writing and reading on them.

    • Hi Mark,

      I really appreciated your comments. This one sticks out for me:

      “This should come as no surprise. Students employ active reading strategies when reading for information; highlighting, annotating, writing in margins, coding, underlining, etc.”

      I tried to consider this in my dissertation study–we’ve spent our entire lives reading from a print, hardcopy of a book. I could not really eliminate or control for this moderator for my study, but what I did instead was thoroughly teach all my participants how to use both book types. I reviewed the literature on good quality explicit instruction and paired it with important instructional design components of textbooks. This resulted in 7 traditional textbook features and 10 iPad iBook features. Why? Because while all my participants were familiar with textbooks, and had used iPads, only one had ever used and read an iPad iBook. So I taught the following 7 traditional textbook features:

      1 – Table of contents
      2 – Glossary & vocabulary
      3 – Text clues (bold, italics, underline, font, size, color)
      4 – Cues
      5 – Pictures
      6 – Highlighting & note-taking
      7 – Reviews

      and for the iPad iBook, I taught the above 7, plus three more:

      8 – Video
      9 – Interactivity
      10 – Audio

      I modeled these, features, conducted advanced and independent practices, and tested students to ensure they knew how to “do” and find these book features.

      I believe these to be the big “how to find important information” features of a book. If the point of reading is to learn and pull out relevant information, and given that the CCSS are moving to 70% informational text at that sacrifice of fictional literature, finding important information is more critical than ever.

      So, although the intervention in my study was the iPad iBook itself and its comparison to the business as usual traditional textbook, I felt (as their classroom teacher) it was imperative that I teach my students how to read each book type and not just conduct the study by saying “here, read an iPad iBook, which you’ve never used before.” I probably messed up my results a bit–I intervened across all conditions by teaching them these 7 or 10 book features, but I did not feel as if it would be very practitioner-friendly if I wasn’t considering the best possible outcomes for all my kiddos.

      Two findings related to book features surprised me:

      1 – Students mentioned that they were not necessarily taught specific book features. Often kids told me that they were supposed to know about book features and where the Table of Contents or Glossary was located in the book–but no teacher explicitly taught book features before this study. That surprised me; I consider myself to be a decent teacher, and given my strategy training and PhD background, I would have thought all my students could do this. That wasn’t the case. Studies like those conducted by Project 2061 have found how each textbook is unique and structured differently–books are not inherently organized to maximize student learning and focus on the most important information–a science book looks hell of a lot different than a English or mathematics book.

      2 – I had students identify which of the 7 & 10 book features were most and least helpful. As Mark mentions, the features the students liked the most required the students to take an active, participatory role in reading. For iPad, these were:

      1 – Video
      2 / 3 – Interactivity / audio (tie)

      For textbook, these were:

      1 – Highlighting and note-taking
      2 – Text clues

      I think it is interesting that the features the students identified as most useful for finding important information were those that require physical movements–watching a video, pinching or zooming with a widget, using a highlighter, underlining a bolded word., etc. etc.

      Great discussion everyone!

      Dan Pollitt, PhD
      Assistant Research Professor
      Center for Research on Learning
      dpollitt @ ku dot edu

      • Thanks for sharing. When I conducted iPad research about reading academic text using digital devices, the most important consideration after the cost of the device was the ability to annotate text while reading. Hence, digital devices must replicate the efficiency of paper. Anecdotally in my teaching, students are less comfortable with digital text because of the cumbersome nature of physical interaction. Most students prefer printed texts. In classes where a digital text is only available, I find students print out the chapters. Schools need to pay attention to this and not shoehorn digital texts into the curriculum. It’s about the reading and learning, not about portability, storage, weight, etc. as many marketeers convince schools. And lastly, many are finding out digital texts are not necessarily less expensive. Publishers are savvy; they price the content as intellectual property, not as a physically produced object.

        Thanks Daniel for sharing your research!

      • gitapik

        I’ve had great success with iPads when teaching young children with autism. I always start the lesson with a shared art or music activity on one iPad, passed from student to student. From there move on to groups of two, working the same project. Then move on to individual usage.

        Master of the obvious: the proliferation of iPads is profit oriented. The people who are spearheading the movement want to make it into the centerpiece of the classroom. I was the tech guy for more than a decade. Tech isn’t the answer. It’s a great tool that deserves a solid place within a varied curriculum.

      • larrycuban

        Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      • larrycuban

        Thanks for your comment, Dan.

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