LAUSD recently approved a contract with Apple to buy iPads for 30,000 students, for a total cost of $30 million. They will also be hiring about 15 “facilitators” and providing training and support for the first 47 schools to adopt the program. This purchase is just the first step in a plan to purchase iPads for all 650,000 LAUSD students, with a price tag of about half a billion dollars.
District officials claim that the introduction of iPads into the classroom marks an important educational advance for LAUSD. Frequently cited benefits of the program include the iPad’s integral role in the new Common Core curriculum, to be instituted beginning in the 2014-15 school year, in which children will be required to take tests electronically, and the device’s ability to serve as an equalizer for students who otherwise would not have access to computers outside the classroom.
Proponents of the program also argue that iPads will increase technological literacy for students, a vital skill for entering the workplace.
While these are not illegitimate educational benefits, the financial burden of the program far outweighs anything less than dramatic, revolutionary changes to the quality of LAUSD education-something this program surely will not, and does not even purport to, achieve.
The devices will be paid for with voter-approved 30-year construction bonds. This seems irresponsible in a school district which the Los Angeles Times‘ Steve Lopez reported as having “billions of dollars in deferred maintenance, with no fewer than 35,000 unresolved calls for basic repairs and service, with broken air conditioners, leaky roofs and crumbling bleachers, among other problems.”
Additionally, the district will be paying off the debts incurred by the program until 2043, long after the devices have faded into obsolescence. This continues an unfortunate trend of using long-term debt to pay for instructional expenses that should be managed out of general revenue rather than construction bonds.
The students will even be permitted to take the devices home, raising concerns of damage and theft that will impose even greater expenses on the school district.
While iPads may marginally aid in education, such a gargantuan purchase seems more frivolous than forward thinking.