Apple is rectifying an ill-fated educational iPad program by paying $4.2 million to settle a controversy over faulty software with a Los Angeles school district, a case that could serve as a warning to school boards looking to technology as a blanket fix for education woes.
The L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) bought approximately 40,000 iPads at $768 each, and pre-loaded with software from Pearson, a major textbook publisher and online educational tool creator. But while all iPads and mobile Apple devices use its iOS software, the problem wasn’t with Apple but Pearson’s product that teachers complained was scarce on content, riddles with bugs, and difficult to use.
The original 2013 plan, which cost $1.3 billion, aimed to give iPads to all teachers, administrators and students in the country’s next largest school district that covers 640,000 students and nearly 1,000 schools. Apple agreed to provide the devices and subcontracted Pearson to install curriculum, which added $200 to the cost of each iPad, and still legally put Apple on the hook for any errors.
The FBI is investigating the LAUSD and the bidding process it used to secure the deal with Apple. Meanwhile, the tech giant reached a settlement agreement with LAUSD Sept. 25 and is awaiting Board of Education approval expected in October. Fellow computer manufacturer Lenovo was also named in the settlement for its involvement with Pearson, agreeing to donate the $2.2 million worth of computers it previously committed to sell to the school district.
The school district plans to use the funds from Apple to buy other computers through a grant program, the LA Times reported.
Digital literacy is an increasingly necessary skill to navigate everyday life, and as technology becomes faster and more portable, it has become crucial means of access for people who otherwise wouldn’t readily be able to connect to the internet. Schools have readily adopted tablets, Chromebooks, and 2-in-1 laptop devices to ensure students are technologically equipped. But simply handing out tablets doesn’t automatically shrink the achievement gap and widens it in some cases.
Broadband internet access at isn’t guaranteed at home. Sixteen percent of Americans don’t have reliable internet access and tend to be lower income, earning less than $30,000 a year, and are more likely African American or Hispanic, according a recent Pew Research survey.
Blacks and Latinos are more likely to access the internet through mobile devices, but while schools doling out iPads would seemingly benefit fit that statistic to ensure widespread access, it doesn’t address the increased cost of data plans needed to cover use outside of the classroom. That deficit is known as the “the homework gap,” where students have the devices but can’t use them at home because of a lack of WiFi access.
Besides access concerns, students may be more distracted on tablets versus school-issued laptops. Joel Handler, technology director for Hillsborough, New Jersey schools told the Atlantic that iPads distributed as part of its interactive education program were more associated with games instead schoolwork:
Students saw the iPad as a “fun” gaming environment, while the Chromebook was perceived as a place to “get to work.” And as much as students liked to annotate and read on the iPad, the Chromebook’s keyboard was a greater perk — especially since the new Common Core online testing will require a keyboard.
Moreover, school districts could be further wasting money buying tablets for each student because some research shows that sharing devices is more conducive to learning. A small study conducted by a Northwestern University doctoral candidate found that kindergartners who used iPads in pairs throughout the academic year scored an average of 30 points higher than students with personal iPads and those who didn’t have one at all.