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L.A. District Seeks Refund From Apple Amid Investigations

The Los Angeles Unified School District's ambitious plan to provide an iPad for every student has been derailed by questions about the contract bidding process and dissatisfaction with the software.
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The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) this week asked Apple to refund fees paid for educational content licenses provided by Pearson Education, Apple's partner in a $1.3 billion iPad contract that began as a $30 million deal in June 2013. The goal had been to give every L.A. district student an iPad with instructional software.

In a letter sent to Apple general counsel Bruce Sewell, LAUSD general counsel David Holmquist says Pearson failed to deliver what it promised for the district's Instructional Technology Initiative (ITI), formerly referred to as the Common Core Technology Project.

"While Apple and Pearson promised a state-of-the-art technological solution for ITI implementation, they have yet to deliver it, " Holmquist wrote. "Despite issuance of cure notices to Apple and numerous meetings with Apple and Pearson, few improvements have been made."

Holmquist states that LAUSD will no longer use Pearson content for ITI and will no longer purchase Apple devices that contain Pearson content. 

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

In an emailed statement, Pearson extolled its long working history with the LAUSD and its investment in transforming instructional practices. "LAUSD oversaw a large-scale implementation of new technologies and there have been challenges with the initial adoption, but we stand by the quality of our performance," a company spokesperson said. "We took on this challenging work because of the opportunity to bring innovation of digital learning to scale in the most diverse district in the country serving large numbers of students living in poverty."

Following the resignation of LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy in October last year, his successor, Ramon Cortines, suspended the iPad program in early December, a day after FBI agents arrived at LAUSD headquarters and seized boxes full of documents.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the FBI was carrying out a federal grand jury subpoena seeking information on the contract and the bidding process as well as records related to other projects.

An LAUSD spokesperson confirmed reports that the SEC has opened an informal inquiry into the district's use of bond funds for the iPad deal.

A September 2014 report by the American Institutes for Research identified a number of problems with the district's iPad program, problems that indicate technology alone won't improve education.

The report cites complaints by some teachers that: Pearson's curriculum was incomplete during training sessions; training sessions didn't explain how to integrate the curriculum into classrooms effectively; and apps couldn't be accessed. It also cites a variety of technical roadblocks faced in classroom settings: poor connectivity; device problems; a lack of training among teachers; a lack of technology skills among teachers and students; a lack of district communication and guidance; problems with Apple IDs, login, and email; and various other issues.

The LAUSD's dissatisfaction with Pearson's curriculum has only partially affected Apple. While the LAUSD has put a hold on its plan to provide every student with an iPad, it continues to buy technology from Apple. But the district is also looking beyond a single vendor. According to the L.A. Times the LAUSD had been moving away from single vendor contracts since early 2014.

Over the winter break, according to LA School Report, the district spent $13 million to buy 21,000 iPad Airs and keyboards, along with 6,000 Chromebooks. Chromebooks became an option for LA schools after the iPad deal unraveled, at the approval of Cortines, and are expected to cost the district between $100 to $200 less than iPads (which cost about $768 apiece, curriculum included).

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